MOSCOW — A U.S. indictment of two Russian intelligence agents and two hackers alleged to have stolen more than half a billion U.S. email accounts in 2014 has cast a spotlight on the intertwining of the Russian security services and the murky digital underworld.
The officers of the powerful FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, are accused of employing cybercriminals to access Yahoo’s systems and steal data on millions of ordinary users as well as U.S. and Russian officials, Russian journalists and executives at large companies.
Interviews with security experts, hackers and people close to the Russian cybercriminal world suggest that the FSB’s ties to cybercrime date back years and are mediated through a web of intermediaries and lubricated by blackmail and cash.
“There has been a lot of piggy-backing by the Russian state on the activities of Russian organized cybercriminal groups and scooping up the fruits of their activities,” said Nigel Inkster, director of Future Conflict and Cyber Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a former British intelligence officer.
“The FSB know where these guys are and they know where they can find them,” he said.
According to the indictment, FSB agents Igor Sushchin and Dmitry Dokuchaev ran two hackers during the Yahoo operation and paid them. The hackers were Aleksei Belan, a Russian national, and Karim Baratov, a Kazakh who lives in Canada. Belan also is alleged to have simultaneously used the data to run a spamming network to look for financial information for personal profit.
In 2011, Dokuchaev was identified by the pseudonym “Forb” in the Russian-language magazine Hacker. In a 2004 interview with the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, Forb boasted of making money from credit-card fraud and breaking into U.S….