The indictment opens a window on what USA officials say is the reliance of Russia's intelligence community on a thriving criminal underground to achieve foreign policy objectives, flouting global anti-crime conventions and treaties.
Dokuchaev was reported previous year to have been arrested in Moscow by Russian authorities on treason charges linked to the US. Just last week, a cache of stolen Central Intelligence Agency documents leaked by activist group WikiLeaks revealed espionage tactics that US agents may have used to hack into numerous Silicon Valley consumer products, including the iPhone and Google's Android software.
Another interesting tidbit from the indictment was the number of Russian officials using Yahoo and Gmail accounts, including a "senior officer" of a Russian webmail and internet-related services provider.
"During the conspiracy, the FSB officers facilitated Belan's other criminal activities, by providing him with sensitive FSB law enforcement and intelligence information that would have helped him avoid detection by US and other law enforcement agencies outside Russian Federation, including information regarding FSB investigations of computer hacking and FSB techniques for identifying criminal hackers", the Justice Department charged in its statement about the indictments.
"The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious", McCord said in a statement. The unit within the FSB where the two defendants work, known as Center 18, is the main "point of contact in Moscow for cyber-crime matters", according to McCord.
USA officials said it was especially galling that the scheme involved officers from a Russian counterespionage service that theoretically should be working collaboratively with its Federal Bureau of Investigation counterparts.
The Justice Department explicitly denies any connection of the DNC hack to the latest indictment.
"The United States will vigorously investigate and prosecute the people behind such attacks to the fullest extent of the law", U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. It's a Yahoo trade secret that contained user names, recovery email accounts, phone numbers and authenticating information for half a billion Yahoo accounts.
Belan also hacked Yahoo's account management tool, proprietary software that allows administrators to log changes to Yahoo accounts, the indictment says. Some of the accounts led Baratov to identify users who also had Google mail accounts, which he hacked.
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In other instances, according to the indictment, the hackers "sought access to accounts of employees of commercial entities, including executives and other managers of a prominent Russian investment banking firm...; a French transportation company; US financial services and private equity firms; a Swiss bitcoin wallet and banking firm; and a USA airline".
The case further blurs the lines between the Russian government and cybercriminals.
Alleged Russian intelligence (FSB) agents Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43, also face charges.
Baratov maintains his innocence and has no prior criminal record, his lawyer said, adding that people should wait for all facts to emerge in the case. The U.S. indictment essentially contends that the hackers had access to the accounts of 30 million users of Yahoo. Belan allegedly targeted anyone searching for erectile dysfunction medication.
McCord said the hackers targeted the accounts of government officials from both Russian Federation and the United States, as well as journalists, financial services employees and military personnel. He was paid $100 for each victim's credentials that he passed on to Dokuchaev. The announcement was made as President Barack Obama took steps against Russian Federation for attempting to interfere with the US presidential election. The U.S.is "embarrassing them in the news".
But when Baratov's friend saw news reports on the arrest, "It kind of just clicked right away", the friend said.
His career as a successful cyberthief was almost derailed in 2013 when he was arrested in Greece at the request of the United States authorities.
The Justice Department's assertion that the FSB was directing the hacking likely provides political and legal cover for Yahoo, which saw its multibillion-dollar deal with Verizon teeter after it was forced to warn consumers that their private information might have been exposed.