Two agents from Russia’s FSB security agency have been charged alongside two “criminal hackers” in connection with the 2014 Yahoo! data breach.
The FBI said one of the hackers was arrested this week by Canadian authorities, while the other cyber criminal and the two FSB workers are considered fugitives who were last known to have been in Russia.
The two intelligence workers were named as Dmitry Dokuchayev and Igor Sushchin.
Dokuchayev, who worked in the FSB’s Centre for Information Security and was arrested earlier this year in Moscow on charges of treason, is alleged to have coordinated the Yahoo! attack with his superior Sushchin.
Prosecutors allege the pair hired hackers Karim Baratov and Alexsey Belan to carry out the attack.
The four men now face a total of 47 charges, including theft of trade secrets and computer fraud, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said on Wednesday.
Announcing the charges, DoJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord said: “The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities make this conduct that much more egregious – there are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behaviour.”
Responding to news of the charges, Moscow denied its intelligence agency had anything to do with the massive Yahoo! breach.
Speaking with reporters yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he had received no official confirmation of the men’s indictment from the US, and that all the information he had about the case had been gleaned from the media.
“We have said repeatedly that there can be no discussion of any official involvement of any Russian office, including the FSB, being involved in any unlawful cyber activities,” he added.
According to a report from the Times, US investigators praised British security services for helping to link the two Russian FSB agents to the breach. FBI Executive Director Paul Abbate said MI5 made a significant contribution to the probe into the attack.
As Russia and the US have no extradition treaty, it is highly unlikely the FSB agents will face an American court.
The case further highlights an increasing blurring of the lines between state-sponsored cyber espionage actors and criminal hackers. Earlier this week, two separate reports noted how the groups have become almost indistinguishable from one another.
The 2014 Yahoo! data breach, during which account information belonging to an estimated half billion users was stolen, has caused the once-mighty internet giant huge damage.
As well as the reputational harm caused to the firm’s brand, the massive hack seriously jeopardised the company’s plans to sell its core assets to US internet provider and mobile carrier Verizon. It was recently reported that Verizon at one point attempted to negotiate a $925 million reduction on the price it had promised to pay for the company, before settling on a discount of $350 million.