US authorities will charge two Russian intelligence officers, along with two hackers, in a data breach that affected at least 1 billion Yahoo user accounts. The justice department announced the indictment Wednesday, saying the hackers had targeted email accounts belonging to Russian journalists, opposition politicians, officials from countries adjacent to Russia, and US officials including “cyber security, diplomatic, military and White House personnel.”
Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general for national security, said at a press conference:
“The department of justice is continuing to send a powerful message that we will not allow individuals, groups, nation-states, or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies or the security of our country.”
The charges represent the first criminal case against Russian officials involving cybercrimes. The justice department has previously charged Russian hackers, as well as hackers sponsored by Iranian and Chinese governments, but the case against Russian government officials is unprecedented.
It comes during a time of controversy over Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, including a breach of data from the Democratic National Committee.
“Our indictment does not have any connection between this intrusion and the intrusions into the DNC. That is a separate investigation.”
She said the attack targeted information, “clearly some of which has intelligence value” but also noted that “the criminal hackers used this to line their own pockets for private financial gain.”
The charges named two agents from Russia’s FSB spy agency, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin. McCord said the two “were acting in their capacity as FSB officials.”
The attack was partially discovered in September, but the full extent of what has been called one the largest cyber-attacks in history, was not revealed until December. When the breach was made public, Yahoo was widely criticized for inadequate security measures.
Reports of the breach led to tension between Yahoo and Verizon, who had agreed to a $4.83 billion deal to acquire the company earlier in 2016. When the full extent of the breach became clear, Verizon’s general counsel noted to reporters that the breach could diminish what Verizon was willing to pay for the company. Earlier this week, Yahoo lowered its asking price for its core assets by $350 million.
The Justice Department said the hackers had quietly gained entry in early 2014, starting reconnaissance but did not steal data until October or November later that year.