The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Russian intelligence agents and a pair of hired hackers have been charged in a devastating criminal breach at Yahoo that affected at least a half billion user accounts, the Justice Department said Wednesday in bringing the first case of its kind against current Russian government officials.
In a scheme that prosecutors say blended intelligence gathering with old-fashioned financial greed, the four men targeted the email accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, Russian journalists and employees of financial services and other private businesses, U.S. officials said.
Using in some cases a technique known as “spear-phishing” to dupe Yahoo users into thinking they were receiving legitimate emails, the hackers broke into at least 500 million accounts in search of personal information and financial data such as gift card and credit card numbers, prosecutors said.
“We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies or the security of our country,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, head of the Justice Department’s national security division.
The case, announced amid continued U.S. intelligence agency skepticism of their Russian counterparts, comes as U.S. authorities investigate Russian interference through hacking in the 2016 presidential election. Officials said those investigations are separate.
One of the Yahoo-related defendants, a Canadian and Kazakh national named Karim Baratov, has been taken into custody in Canada. Another, Alexsey Belan, is on the list of the FBI’s most wanted cyber criminals and has been indicted multiple times in the U.S. It’s not clear whether he or the other two defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, will ever step foot in an American courtroom since there’s no extradition treaty with Russia.