Russian IT Leader’s Treason Case Shows Cyber Impasse With U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- A cybersecurity entrepreneur who pushed for tougher action against hackers is facing as much as 20 years in a Russian prison on treason charges, reflecting the challenges the U.S. faces in reaching a deal with Moscow on reining in online crime.
Ilya Sachkov, the 35-year-old founder of Group-IB who was arrested this week and ordered to be detained until Nov. 27, had spoken critically of the apparent immunity of Russian hackers inside their own country’s borders.
The cybersecurity firm said it’s certain of his innocence and pledged to keep operating as normal. The company moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2019.
President Joe Biden agreed at a June summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to hold a dialogue on cybersecurity in a bid to halt a spate of hacking linked to crime groups based in Russia. While talks have started, they’ve made little headway, and the malware attacks have continued.
Sachkov worked closely with Russian’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service or FSB, as is mandatory for cybersecurity firms of any significant size in Russia, according to three people close to security circles in Moscow.
But his growing effort to commercialize his products abroad and move his business mostly outside of Russia aroused suspicions that he was too independent, two of the people said.
In April, the IT entrepreneur said Group-IB planned to list shares on a foreign exchange, Forbes reported. In 2020, Sachkov said his company was on track to earn half its revenue outside of the former Soviet Union for the first time.
Sachkov also raised eyebrows in mid-2020 when at a meeting between Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and IT executives he said Russian authorities should arrest alleged hacking mastermind Maksim Yakubets if they wanted the sector to thrive.
The FBI has offered a reward of as much as $5 million for Yakubets, who’s accused of targeting Europe and North America with malware. Even so, the alleged ringleader of the hacking group known as Evil Corp. lives openly in Moscow and has been photographed driving a fluorescent camouflage Lamborghini with a license plate that reads “Thief” in Russian.
Sachkov’s detention may be linked to accusations of providing information on Russian hackers to the U.S., the Kommersant newspaper reported.
While state treason charges mean any trial will be held behind closed doors, Boris Titov, the Kremlin’s business ombudsman, called for transparency in the Sachkov case.
“Otherwise, the sector and its investment attractiveness will be dealt a critical blow,” Titov warned on his Facebook account. “IT will flee the country.”
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, brushed aside such fears. “This has nothing to do with the business and investment climate in our country,” he told reporters on a conference call.
Sachkov’s fate is a reflection of Russia’s determination to tightly control all cybersecurity interaction with the U.S., said Andrei Soldatov, co-author of “The Red Web: The Kremlin’s Wars on the Internet” and co-founder of Agentura.ru, a site that tracks the security services.
“The FSB doesn’t want any even semi-independent players in this field,” he said.
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