U.S. indicts Russian spies in Yahoo hack

U.S. federal law enforcement indicts four, including two Russian state security operators, for the historic 2014 Yahoo hack.

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The Justice Department formally indicted four people, including two Russian government cybersecurity officers, who DOJ said hacked into email provider Yahoo's accounts in 2014, exposing hundreds of millions of users in one of the largest data breaches ever detected in the U.S.

The hack exposed at least 500 million accounts. Justice Department officials said at a March 15 press conference that the hackers sought access to the accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic and military personnel. It also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other service providers whose networks the hackers wanted to exploit, and employees of financial services and other companies.

The DOJ and the FBI announced indictments of Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both of Russia's Federal Security Service, the agency that replaced the notorious KGB. Those two individuals protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere, said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord.

In addition to conducting espionage, the indictment alleges, co-conspirators Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov hacked into Yahoo accounts to steal credit card and gift card information, and to mint cookies that allowed the perpetrators to spoof email accounts for use in spam and phishing scams.

"These are the very people we're supposed to work with cooperatively in law enforcement channels," said McCord of Dokuchaev and Sushchin during the press conference. "They turned against that work."

McCord said Yahoo and Google had provided "sustained and invaluable cooperation" in the investigation. Both companies, U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said, notified the Justice Department about the breaches. That cooperation didn't come at the expense of customers' privacy, he added.

The FSB unit for which Dokuchaev and Sushchin worked, the Center for Information Security, or Center 18, is also the FBI's point of contact in Moscow for cyber-crime matters, said McCord. According to the indictment, Sushchin was embedded as a purported employee and Head of Information Security at a Russian investment bank

This indictment isn't Belan's first run-in with U.S. law enforcement in the U.S. for hacking. According to McCord, he's been indicted twice before for three hacks into e-commerce companies and has been on the FBI's most-wanted list of cyber criminals for over three years.

Belan, Dokuchaev and Sushchin remain beyond U.S. law enforcement's reach in Russia, said Paul Abbate, FBI executive assistant director during the press conference. Baratov was arrested by Canadian authorities March 14 in Canada on a U.S. government provisional arrest warrant. He has dual Canadian and Kazakh citizenship, but lives in Canada, according to the indictment.

The U.S. is working on bringing the others to justice, but that is an uphill battle.

"We've had limited cooperation with that element of the Russian government in the past," said Abbate. The FBI, he said, asked for Belan's return to the U.S. in 2014 through official channels to the Russian government but received no response. "I think that is reflective of the relationship," he said. "We need cooperation among all international partners to resolve cases like this."

Abbate said he hoped for cooperation from the Russians on this case, and would again formally ask for cooperation to get Belan and the others involved.

"Today's indictments highlight the value of withholding accusations until the private sector's technical forensics can be confirmed by traditional investigative techniques available to law enforcement and the intelligence community," said Intel Security CTO Steve Grobman.

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