The United States has charged two Russian intelligence agents and two suspected hackers with masterminding the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts, marking the first time the US government has criminally charged Russian spies for cyber offenses.
The Justice Department’s 47-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, computer fraud and abuse, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identify theft, Reuters reports.
It paints a picture of the Russian security services working hand-in-hand with cyber criminals, who helped spies further their intelligence goals in exchange for using the same exploits to make money, the news agency said.
The charges came amid a swirl of controversies relating to alleged Kremlin-backed hacking of the 2016 US presidential election and possible links between Russian figures and associates of US President Donald Trump, and uncertainty about whether Trump is willing to respond forcefully to aggression from Moscow in cyberspace and elsewhere.
“The criminal conduct at issue, carried out and otherwise facilitated by officers from an FSB unit that serves as the FBI’s point of contact in Moscow on cyber crime matters, is beyond the pale,” acting assistant attorney general Mary McCord was quoted as saying at a press conference announcing the charges on Wednesday.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) is the successor to the KGB.
Yahoo said when it announced the then-unprecedented breach last September that it believed the attack was state-sponsored, and on Wednesday the company said the indictment “unequivocally shows” that to be the case.
The charges are not related to the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 US presidential election. US intelligence agencies have said they were carried out by Russian spy services, including the FSB, to help the campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The indictment named the FSB officers involved as Dmitry Dokuchaev and his superior, Igor Sushchin, who are both in Russia.
Dokuchaev was arrested for treason in December, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
The alleged criminals involved in the scheme include Alexsey Belan, who is among the FBI’s most-wanted cyber criminals and was arrested in Europe in June 2013 but escaped to Russia before he could be extradited to the US, according to the Justice Department.
Karim Baratov, who was born in Kazakhstan but has Canadian citizenship, was also named in the indictment.
The Justice Department said Baratov was arrested in Canada on Tuesday.
McCord said the hacking campaign was waged by the FSB to collect intelligence but that the two hackers used the collected information as an opportunity to “line their pockets”.
The US does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, but McCord said she was hopeful Russian authorities would cooperate in bringing criminals to justice.
– Contact us at [email protected]