Yahoo cyber indictment
shows Kremlin, hackers working hand-in-hand
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[March 16, 2017]
By Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay
(Reuters) - Wednesday's indictments in the United States of four people
in a 2014 cyber attack on Yahoo Inc provides the clearest details yet on
what some U.S. officials say is a symbiotic relationship between
Moscow's security services and private Russian hackers.
The indictment charges two officers of the FSB, Russia's Federal
Security Service, and two hackers who allegedly worked hand-in-hand with
them to crack 500 million Yahoo user accounts.
U.S. authorities and cyber security specialists have long said the
Kremlin employs criminal hackers for its geostrategic purposes. They say
the arrangement offers deniability to Moscow and freedom from legal
troubles for the hackers.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
employing criminal hackers helps "complement Kremlin intentions and
provide plausible deniability for the Russian state."
The FSB in Moscow did not respond immediately to a request for comment
on Wednesday evening.
The United States sometimes engages with criminal hackers as well,
buying tools from them or recruiting them to help find other criminal
hackers, cyber security professionals and government officials say.
Milan Patel, a former FBI cyber agent and now managing director for
cyber defense at K2 Intelligence, said the intermingling of espionage
and cyber crime in Russia had led the United States and its allies to be
far more wary about alerting Moscow to criminal hackers.
"Magically those guys would disappear off the battlefield and most
likely end up working for the Russian government," Patel said of the
names shared by Washington.
The Russian government had no official comment on the charges in the
Russian news accounts stressed that one of the FSB agents, Dmitry
Dokuchaev, was arrested by Russian authorities in December and charged
The indictment charges Dokuchaev with having acted as a handler for a
hacker named Karim Baratov, directing him to use the Yahoo data to crack
emails on other systems and paying him a bounty when he succeeded.
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A poster of suspected Russian hackers is seen before FBI National
Security Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern
District of California joint news conference at the Justice
Department in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Baratov is in custody in Canada, according to the Toronto police, while
Dokuchaev remains in Russia.
The charges coincide with mounting tensions between U.S. intelligence
agencies and Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which they
accused of hacking the 2016 U.S. presidential election to influence the
vote in favor of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
In addition, congressional committees are investigating possible links
between Russian figures and associates of President Trump.
Senator John Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement the indictments
showed "the close and mutually beneficial ties between the cyber
underworld and Russia’s government and security services."
He said the case "underscores the complexity and the urgency" of the
committee's investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election.
James Lewis, a former State Department official and now a cyber expert
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there were
three rules for cooperation between the Russian government and criminal
Private hackers know to avoid attacking Russian-language sites and to
share their profits with authorities, he said. "Rule Number Three (is),
if we ask you to do us a favor, do it."
(Reporting by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting
by Dustin Volz; Editing by Jonathan Weber, Grant McCool and Paul Tait)
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