The US government’s indictment of two Russian spies and two hackers for accessing the data of 500 million Yahoo users in 2014 has exposed cyber criminals given authorization to hack by foreign governments.
US prosecutors say Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, security officials working for Russia’s FSB spy agency, were given permission to access the content of 30 million accounts as part of a spam campaign, and to victimize other internet users.
This is the first time the US government has charged senior officials working for Russia’s security agency, and shines a light on the growing need to boost cyber security.
According to the Financial Times, the indictment claims that the hacks were carried out in exchange for access to more targeted intelligence of importance to the Russian government.
The 47-counts include “conspiracy, computer fraud and abuse, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identify theft.”
Prosecutors say the charges are not related to the hacking of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election, but it highlights how vulnerable data stored online can be and the importance of boosting cyber security measures.
American and British intelligence agencies have become increasingly concerned over cybercrime recently, especially Russia’s involvement with organized crime gangs to facilitate hacks through private groups.
The two hackers cited by US officials in this case are well-known criminals – Alexsey Belan, on the cyber-criminal wanted list, and Karim Baratov, a Canadian citizen. The Justice Department revealed that Baratov was arrested in Canada and his case is pending.
US officials claim that Russia has been cyber attacking nations since 2007, first using a criminal group to attack Estonia by taking banks offline, interrupting media and disabling government services. Russia has significantly increased its online capabilities since then, as the hack on the Democratic National Convention during the presidential election proved.
According to the Financial Times, there are alleged to be at least two dozen criminal organizations within Russia whose hacking capabilities are better than most governments, and fund themselves through financial fraud and even government bungs. One of the main reasons for Russia’s co-operation with these groups is to protect its own state, and of course to infiltrate the ’enemy’.
In indicting Dokuchaev and Sushchin, US law enforcers hope to achieve a deterrent to stop the widespread use of government backed cyber-spying. After criminal charges were brought against Chinese hackers in the People’s Liberation Army in 2014, China scaled down its online attacks on the United States and the latest measures are aimed at achieving the same.