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A whole special operation: how the FBI arrested a Russian hacker in the USA

I paid for a trip to Lake Tahoe and wanted to placate my Russian-speaking friend with alcohol. I avoided cameras and was afraid of wiretapping. This is exactly how, according to representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Russian unsuccessfully tried to lure an employee of a Nevada IT company over to his side in order to get $ 4 million. with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

The Russian hacker in question is 27-year-old Yegor Kryuchkov. He flew to New York on July 28, 2020, according to a statement from the United States Department of Justice.

According to the department, Kryuchkov visited the United States in order to personally persuade an employee of an unnamed IT company from Nevada to infect his work computer with a malicious virus. Reported that if successful an American would receive $ 1 million.

How Kryuchkov carried out his plans

In mid-July, while still in Russia, Yegor corresponded via WhatsApp with a Russian-speaking employee of a Nevada IT company (the name was not disclosed). Kryuchkov assured the American, whose name is also not called, that their mutual acquaintance shared his contact. Then he unobtrusively told about his plans to fly to the USA and offered to meet. This information is indicated in the order of the Nevada District Court on the arrest of Yegor Kryuchkov.

A few weeks later, at the end of June, Kryuchkov arrived in New York on a tourist visa. It should be noted that at that time there were restrictions on the entry of Russians into the country. From New York, Yegor left for San Francisco, where he rented a Toyota Corolla and headed to Nevada, the town of Sparks, to get as close as possible to Reno.

It was in Reno, according to the decision of the district court, that his Russian-speaking acquaintance lived and worked. The next few days, the comrades who had recently met in the chat rested. So, they managed to go to the popular resort to Lake Tahoe. The Russian guest covered all the expenses.

In early August, Yegor got down to business, for which he came. He invited a new friend to a bar in Reno, where they got very drunk. Such information, as follows from court documents, was disclosed by the American to the FBI.

Then, according to the testimony of an American IT specialist from Reno, Kryuchkov put his smartphones aside and opened his cards. As a rule, those who do not want to be tapped do this.

What exactly did Kryuchkov offer to the American IT specialist?

Egor told a new friend that a certain group was behind him, specializing in hacking computer networks and systems. Then he allegedly offered to run a malicious program on his work PC for the American, with the help of which his accomplices would pump out corporate information. At the same time, Russian hackers will conduct a DDoS attack on the company's network in order to deceive the security service.

As expected, further blackmail was planned. Attackers would have asked an unnamed IT company for $ 4 million to prevent the dumped data from being published. One million was offered to the American for cooperation with a hacker group. Despite the tempting offer, he did not agree immediately, and Kryuchkov gave time to think, according to the court documents.

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An employee of an American company decided not to go against the law and turned to law enforcement agencies for help. All further communication with Kryuchkov was under the control of the FBI. All dialogues were recorded through a hidden microphone, meetings were filmed.

Experts have developed an action plan for the American IT specialist. So, he began to demand an advance from Kryuchkov. Egor argued that this was not the first scheme carried out by his group and that they had never previously practiced payments in advance.

Further, bargaining began for the amount of the advance, during which Yegor admitted that he himself did not understand technical issues, and that the group allegedly included a certain IT specialist working in a high position in one of the state banks of Russia.

During these conversations, Kryuchkov was constantly worried about confidentiality - he corresponded on WhatsApp and asked to erase messages, put the Tor browser on the smartphone of an employee of an unnamed company, which allows him to remain anonymous on the network. Yegor made appointments in the car and was never photographed during his trip to Nevada.

Also, a Russian hacker gave an employee of an American IT company a phone that he bought in New York for cash. This gadget was “clean,” Kryuchkov said, and was necessary to communicate with the group after he himself left the United States.

FBI Special Agent Michael Hughes, in his petition to arrest the Russian hacker, said that this behavior is typical either for foreign intelligence officers or accomplices of serious criminal groups. Whether Kryuchkov is connected with such structures is unknown, this will be clarified in court.

What the FBI knows about Kryuchkov

The arrest warrant for Yegor Kryuchkov contains his year of birth and the last four digits of his passport. This information allowed the BBC staff to establish that we are talking about a 27-year-old resident of St. Petersburg.

He became an orphan early and, together with his sister, was raised by his grandmother and aunt. Acquaintances of the hacker told reporters about it.

Egor graduated from the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University - one of the best universities in the world for training programmers. At the same time, Kryuchkov was not an IT specialist, which he honestly admitted to a new American acquaintance. He defended his master's thesis on energy development in Sakhalin in 2017 at the Faculty of Economics and Management.

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The arrest of the hacker has already become known to some of his acquaintances at the university.

“Everyone is shocked, just write,” a former classmate told reporters who asked to remain anonymous. As she said, at the University Kryuchkov did not show any “fraudulent inclinations” and for some time earned a living in a pizza delivery service.

Judging by the way Yegor's number was recorded by a number of GetContact users, he also earned money as an assistant in gift shops.

Another classmate characterizes Kryuchkov as a “sympathetic and kind” person who was almost always positive, studied well and loved to travel. His Instagram is full of photos from the United States, where he first flew in 2014, and then returned there in 2015 and 2020.

His classmate said that before his last trip to the States, the alleged hacker had lived in Moscow for a year: "Apparently, he was looking for himself." There, Kryuchkov is supposed to be engaged in sports betting, according to BBC sources with access to the tax authorities (or he worked for a bookmaker).

Paying for the whole company while traveling to the natural attractions of Nevada, he boasted that he managed to play at the hotel and won, follows from the ruling of the district court.

It is assumed that the company specializes in the gambling business, to whose database Kryuchkov wanted to get access. It is worth noting that the entire Reno economy lies on the casino.

Arrest of Kryuchkov in Los Angeles

A few days before his arrest, Yegor called his friend Alexander Skorobogatov in St. Petersburg, with whom they both once worked in a souvenir shop on Vasilyevsky Island selling nesting dolls. The hero of the plot systematically asked a friend for a loan, he needed the same this time.

“He asked for help to buy a return ticket and some fabulous money, 50 thousand dollars,” Skorobogatov told BBC journalists. His conversation with Yegor took place in the presence of an employee of an unnamed American IT company and ended up in a court order, but Skorobogatov himself claims that he does not know about his friend's activities.

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The next day after this conversation with Kryuchkov, FBI special agents got in touch. The Russian left Nevada for Los Angeles, according to a Justice Department press release. There he was detained and arrested on charges of cyber fraud.

How Russian hackers were detained in the United States

As a rule, the US authorities accuse Russian hackers in absentia. For example, a hacker named Evgeny Bogachev, previously the most wanted by the FBI, lives quietly in the Krasnodar Territory. And the current wanted Maxim Yakubets is in Moscow. It is noteworthy that both are suspected of hacking into American banks, but Russian law enforcement officers have no complaints against them.

Despite this, there are also plenty of cases when Russians go to jail on cybercrime charges.

As an example, we can cite the resonant history of the Siberian-Petersburg rapper Maxim Boyko. He was arrested in Los Angeles in the spring of 2020. The FBI believes that he laundered $ 388 stolen by hackers. Boyko is now awaiting trial in the Pennsylvania colony.

In the early 2000s, FBI officers lured two residents of Chelyabinsk and charged them with hacking accounts of the PayPal payment system and the eBay marketplace. Vasily Gorshkov and Alexei Ivanov were offered high-paying jobs in the United States, and as a result, both were sentenced to three years in prison.

To get into an American prison, Russian hackers sometimes just need to travel outside their homeland. For example, the son of State Duma deputy Roman Seleznev was arrested in the Maldives, and now he will be in prison for 27 years. Another alleged launderer, DJ Denis Kaznacheyev, is awaiting extradition trial in Berlin.

All detained Russians are assisted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As TASS was told at the Russian embassy in the United States, the agency is aware of what happened to Kryuchkov and will soon contact the arrested person to provide him with the necessary consular legal protection.

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