Connectivity

U.S. Charges Russian Officials over Hacks for the First Time

The Justice Department has issued arrest warrants for two Russian spies over a huge Yahoo breach.

U.S. prosecutors have issued criminal charges against Russian government officials over a hack that affected 500 million Yahoo users.

During a press conference in Washington, D.C., officials from the Justice Department issued an indictment against two Russian spies and two hackers. The spies—Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin—work for the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service.

A total of 47 charges are leveled against the four, including conspiracy, computer fraud, and access device fraud. They all relate to a hack that targeted Yahoo in 2014, in which names, e-mail addresses, encrypted passwords, and many other details of 500 million users were stolen. When Yahoo discovered and announced the attack in 2016, it claimed that it had been carried out by “state-sponsored” hackers. At the time, security researchers disputed that claim, but it now appears to be correct.

It is, of course, not particularly surprising that Russia is behind hacks targeted at a U.S. tech company. The Justice Department has charged Russian hackers over cybercrimes in the past. And a number of incidents during the run-up to last year’s presidential election are thought to have originated from Russia’s government. But this is the first time that a criminal case has been brought against a Russian official for a cyberattack.

It’s not, however, the first time that the U.S. has gone after foreign officials over hacking. In 2014, the Justice Department famously indicted five Chinese military officers, all agents of the nation’s People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398, who prosecutors said stole masses of data from large American companies such as U.S. Steel and Westinghouse.

Clearly, it’s unafraid to now set its sights on Russia. “The Department of Justice is continuing to send a powerful message that we will not allow individuals, groups, nation-states, or accommodation of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies, or the security of our country,” the acting assistant attorney general for national security, Mary McCord, said during the press conference.

The news arrives at a time when relations between Russia and the U.S. are in an unusual state. American officials are currently investigating whether Russia was behind a series of pre-election hacks, including those leveled at the Democratic National Committee and voter registration systems. There are also investigations being carried out to establish possible ties between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russian officials.

It's thought that the two spies charged with the Yahoo hacks may be in Russia, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

(Read more: Reuters,  “A History of Yahoo Hacks,” “Obama Demands the Facts on Election Hacks,” “Cyber-Espionage Nightmare”)

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