The U.S. Department of Justice late last week said it had arrested Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, a Russian national, on charges he sought to breach the network of an unnamed U.S. company in a ransomware attack.
A number of media reports figured Tesla was the potential victim and now Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has confirmed it was the electric car maker’s Nevada factory that was targeted by what he called a “serious cyber attack,” in a Twitter post.
A Russian-speaking, non-U.S. citizen Tesla employee who had access to the company's network was recruited by Kriuchkov to help execute the malware attack but rather than accept the $1 million the gangster offered to carry out the extortion plot, the employee instead tipped off the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to thwart the cyber blackmail attempt.
That a criminal complaint (dated August 23, 2020) has been filed by the FBI’s Las Vegas Field Office suggests the scheme was “no ordinary hacking attempt — it may very well be part of a well-financed, organized, scheme,” the news website Teslarati said.
According to the complaint, from July 15, 2020 to about August 22, 2020, Kriuchkov conspired with “unknown co-conspirators” in a scheme to “recruit an employee of a company to surreptitiously transmit malware provided by the co-conspirators into the company’s computer system, exfiltrate data from the company’s network, and threaten to disclose the data online unless the company paid the co-conspirators’ ransom demand.”
According to the Justice Department, Kriuchkov promised the employee, whose name has not been divulged, a six-figure payoff to inject malware into the system, launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to occupy Tesla's IT security team, and gain access to its corporate data.
On August 21, 2020, the hacker contacted the Tesla employee and said the plan had been put off and all payments would be handed over at some later date. The next day, after the FBI tracked down Kriuchkov, he fled to Los Angeles where he was arrested, Teslarati reported.