Early in his rise to the pinnacle of Russian cybercrime, Maksim Yakubets, leader of one of the most successful hacking syndicates in the world, was asked if he was worried about being arrested. “I don’t give a shit about K and FSB,” replied Yakubets, referring to Department K, Russia’s cyberpolice, and the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, according to a transcript of a 2014 webchat obtained by Scylla Intel, a threat intelligence firm. “My neighbor is the second man in the whole FSB.”
In just the past three months, criminal hackers tied to Russia have used ransomware attacks to paralyze a key oil pipeline company and cripple one of the world’s largest meat producers. The neighborly relationships some of these hackers have with Vladimir Putin’s government make it extremely difficult for the U.S. to pursue them, an arrangement with clear appeal to the Russian president. “For Putin, it’s a proxy force,” says James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The Kremlin has criminal ties that would just be shocking to any Western capital.”
The Russian government has denied knowing about or being involved in ransomware attacks.
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