Justice Department charges Russian spies, hackers in Yahoo breach

By Allen Cone  |  Updated March 15, 2017 at 1:34 PM
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March 15 (UPI) -- The Justice Department indicted four men with links to Russia on Wednesday in the hacking of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014.

They include two officers of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, and two hackers hired by the Russians, Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov, the Justice Department said at a news conference.

These indictments aren't linked to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. Intelligence officials have acccused Russians of trying to meddle in the 2016 election.

"The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cybersecurity, diplomatic and military personnel," Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general, said to reporters in Washington, D.C. "They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities."

She said the two FSB officers "protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere."

The hackers used the information to obtain contents at Yahoo and other emails providers, including Google's Gmail, the Justice Department said.

The charges, filed in court in San Francisco, include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage.

Prosecutors said Belan was one of the FBI's most wanted cyber criminals for more than three years. He was arrested "twice before in the United States for three intrusions into e-commerce companies that victimized millions of customers," McCord said.

Belan, with help from the two FSB officers, also was able "to line his own pockets with money," McCord said.

Belan is accused of searching for and stealing financial information, including gift card and credit card numbers, from users' Yahoo email accounts.

He allegedly gained access to more than 30 million Yahoo accounts to facilitate an email spam scheme.

Baratov was arrested Tuesday in Canada on a U.S. government provisional arrest warrant.

The other suspects are in Russia, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States.

The FSB, an intelligence and law enforcement agency, succeeded the Soviet Union's KGB.

"The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious," McCord said. "There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior."

Yahoo had said the September 2014 breach was a "state-sponsored actor" but didn't say who it believed was responsible. Another hacking occurred in 2013 that involved 1 billion user accounts.

Hacked information included names, phone numbers, dates of birth, passwords and answers to security questions that could be used to reset passwords.

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