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Justice Department indicts Russian spies for massive Yahoo breach

It marks the first time the United States has filed criminal cybersecurity charges against Russian government officials.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Probst, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Probst, File

The Justice Department is indicting several foreign actors, including two Russian spies, for a massive Yahoo data breach. It represents the government’s largest hacking case in U.S. history.

Four individuals—hackers Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov, and Russian federal secret service cyber intelligence officials Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin — are wanted for wire fraud, hacking, and trade secret theft.

Wednesday’s indictment ties the suspects to the 2014 hack responsible for exposing the data of 500 million Yahoo consumers.

“Today we continue to pierce the veil of anonymity surrounding cyber crimes,” FBI Director James Comey said in a statement released Wednesday. “We are shrinking the world to ensure that cyber criminals think twice before targeting U.S. persons and interests.”

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According to the DOJ, the hackers used the data for monetary gains to commit fraud via phishing scams, while the Russian officials exploited the vulnerability left by the hackers to gather “information of intelligence value” on journalists, government officials, and political dissidents.

Russian hacking has been a reoccurring theme that haunted American politics during the 2016 presidential campaign and has overcast the beginning of President Donald Trump’s term.

Under the Obama administration, the intelligence community pegged Russian actors to the Democratic National Committee email hacks, the suspected tampering of U.S. election systems, and the unauthorized access to a computer in a Vermont utility company.

Wednesday’s announcement is not related to the allegations that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. But it marks the first time the United States has filed criminal charges related to cybersecurity against government officials in Russia, suggesting the U.S. government may be willing to aggressively prosecute Russian officials for cyber crimes.

The Yahoo hacks have rocked the company, which is in the middle of finalizing a merger with Verizon. The telecom giant recently reduced its purchase offer by $350 million, and recently announced it was booting Marissa Mayer as Yahoo’s CEO and chief counsel Ron Bell as the sale comes to a close.

Neither Verizon or Yahoo have commented on Wednesday’s charges.