A Canadian national accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents breach into email accounts as a part of the massive 2014 breach of Yahoo pleaded guilty on Tuesday, the Justice Department revealed.
Responding to charges returned by a grand jury in the Northern District of California in February, Karim Baratov plead guilty to hacking email accounts and selling the passwords to an agent belonging to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency. Baratov entered the pleas of one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse and eight counts of aggravated identity theft, ahead of a sentencing on February 20.
US officials say 22-year-old Baratov is a “hacker-for-hire” who, per his plea deal, admitted to hacking over 11,000 Yahoo webmail accounts on behalf of the Russians and insisted that he didn’t know he was working for Russian agents connected to the Yahoo breach.
“He’s been transparent and forthright with the government since he got here,” said one of his attorneys, Andrew Mancilla. Initially, Baratov pleaded not guilty to the charges but was later scheduled for a “change of plea’ hearing before pleading guilty.
Prosecutors particularly pointed to FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin of directing and paying hackers to obtain information from the email accounts belonging to “individuals of interest to the FSB.” Those targeted included Russian and US government officials, employees of a major Russian cybersecurity firm, the chief executive of a metals company and Russian journalists.
“This case is a prime example of the hybrid cyber threat we’re facing, in which nation states work with criminal hackers to carry out malicious activities,” Paul Abbate, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, said in a statement.
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