The Justice Department filed charges against Russian intelligence operatives for their alleged role in a 2014 cyber attack against a half-million Yahoo users.
The indictments mark the first time that any such charges have been brought against members of the Russian government, which is often accused by US officials of sponsoring aggressive cyber warfare.
Four people were charged altogether. Among those standing accused of hacking, economic espionage, and wire fraud, are Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin—members of the FSB, a Russian intelligence and law enforcement agency.
The other two who stand accused are Karim Baratov and Alexei Belan, described by the Washington Post as “cyber mercenaries.”
Baratov was arrested while traveling in Canada on Tuesday. Assuming the other charged individuals remain in Russia, US authorities will have difficulty nabbing them. There is no extradition treaty between Washington and Moscow.
The 2014 attack against Yahoo resulted in the exfiltration of 500 million email accounts and passwords—a valuable trove of information, as individuals are likely to use the same password across multiple online platforms.
The Post reported that the FSB allegedly attacked Yahoo “for intelligence purposes, targeting journalists, dissidents and U.S. government officials.” The for-hire hackers were also allowed to retain the data for their “own financial gain, through spamming and other operations,” according to the paper.
The DOJ’s actions on Wednesday are unrelated to the question of Russian hacking of political groups related to last year’s presidential election. Although the intelligence community has accused Moscow of being behind the breaches at the Democratic National Committee, no charges have been filed.
Last December, former President Obama slapped sanctions against the Kremlin and two Russian hackers, including Belan, for their alleged participation in the election hacking operation.
Relevant committees on Capitol Hill are also pursuing their own inquiries into the matter.