A top cybersecurity specialist in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was arrested on Wednesday reportedly on suspicion of leaking information to the U.S. intelligence community — a bombshell accusation that, if true, would mean Washington had a spy in the heart of Russia’s national defense infrastructure.
According to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the FSB believes Sergei Mikhailov tipped off U.S. officials to information about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company “King Servers,” which the American cybersecurity company ThreatConnect identified last September as “an information nexus” that was used by hackers suspected of working for Russian state security in cyberattacks.
News reports from Russia and a statement from AV company Kaspersky confirmed that two of Russia’s leading cyber security experts were arrested on charges of treason. Along with Kaspersky’s manager Ruslan Stoyanov, the reports also named Sergei Mikhailov, a senior FSB (Federal Security Service) officer. While Kaspersky had clearly said that the investigation “dates back to the time before Stoyanov was hired by Kaspersky,” fresh reports suggest otherwise.
Kaspersky told the media yesterday that the company has no details of the charges that Stoyanov faces and that the investigation predates Stoyanov’s time with the popular antivirus company.
While many of us had speculated if the charges were in any way related to the recent US-Russia cyber cold war saga, Kaspersky’s statement put a lid on all such speculations since Stoyanov was hired by Kaspersky in 2012. A visit to his LinkedIn profile also revealed that he was working for a major cybercrime unit of Russia’s Ministry of Interior from 2000 to 2006, which made many believe that the latest investigation probably comes from that period.
The authorities in Moscow are prosecuting at least one cybersecurity expert for treason, a prominent Russian criminal defense lawyer confirmed on Friday, while a Russian newspaper reported that the case is linked to hacking during the United States presidential election.
While surely touching a nerve in American politics, the developments in Moscow left a still muddled picture of what, exactly, a series of arrests by the security services here signifies.
But the virtually simultaneous appearance of at least four prominent news reports on the hacking and several related arrests, citing numerous anonymous sources, suggests that the normally opaque Russian government intends to reveal more information about the matter, though it is unclear why.
In the waning weeks of the Obama administration, American federal intelligence agencies released a report asserting the Russian government had hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John D. Podesta, stealing and releasing to WikiLeaks emails intended to damage Mrs. Clinton and help President Trump win the election.