The Kremlin said on Thursday that its domestic spy service, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSS) was not involved in any unlawful cyber activity, a day after the United States charged two Russian intelligence agents, and two others with hacking 500 million Yahoo accounts.
Russia’s response follows Wednesday's indictments in the United States of four people in a 2014 cyber attack on Yahoo Inc. The indictment emphasised further what some US officials said is a symbiotic relationship between Moscow's security services and private Russian hackers.
The indictment charged two officers of the FSB, Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin and Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, and two hackers who allegedly worked hand-in-hand with them to crack 500 million Yahoo user accounts.
Russia Received No Official Information of the Charges: Kremlin
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had received no official information about the charges, and had gleaned all it knew about the case from media reports. He told reporters on a conference call Moscow hoped to receive official information.
Dmitry Peskov We have said repeatedly that there can be no discussion of any official involvement of any Russian office, including the FSB (Federal Security Service), being involved in any unlawful cyber activities.
US authorities and cyber security specialists have long said the Kremlin employs criminal hackers for its geostrategic purposes. They say the arrangement offers deniability to Moscow and freedom from legal troubles for the hackers.
A US intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said employing criminal hackers helps "complement Kremlin intentions and provide plausible deniability for the Russian state."
The United States sometimes engages with criminal hackers as well, buying tools from them or recruiting them to help find other criminal hackers, cyber security professionals and government officials say.
Mounting Tensions Between US and Russia
Russian news accounts stressed that one of the FSB agents, Dmitry Dokuchaev, was arrested by Russian authorities in December and charged with treason.
The indictment charges Dokuchaev with having acted as a handler for a hacker named Karim Baratov, directing him to use the Yahoo data to crack emails on other systems and paying him a bounty when he succeeded.
Baratov is in custody in Canada, according to the Toronto police, while Dokuchaev remains in Russia.
The charges coincide with mounting tensions between US intelligence agencies and Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which they accused of hacking the 2016 US presidential election to influence the vote in favour of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
In addition, congressional committees are investigating possible links between Russian figures and associates of President Trump.