Tesla finds itself in the crosshairs of a sophisticated, now partially disjointed Russian hacking organization known as "the group." A group that uses techniques and procedures typical of the field of espionage and that tried to recruit an employee of the company of the automobile company in exchange for a million dollars. However, he ended up reporting them to the FBI's counterintelligence department.
There are times when it is difficult to distinguish organized crime from the actions of intelligence services. The line is sometimes fuzzy and its methods are common. This is one of these cases. It is the story of a conspiracy that straddles the field of international espionage and illicit profit motives. Its protagonists are two Russian citizens: a mysterious man who flies from Moscow to the United States under a declared identity (about which there is no trace before these events) and a compatriot who emigrated to America to make his fortune as a Tesla employee.
Tesla's stock market value has soared 500% so far this year. The company is going through the sweetest moment in its history: it has recently become the largest manufacturer in the world by market capitalization. A success that has not gone unnoticed by the world of crime, which has set its eyes on Elon Musk's successful company looking to make its own August.
The objective? Apparently, take control of the computer networks of the automobile company (accounting, customers, R&D, etc.) with the aim of hijacking them and then demanding a ransom. However, the Russian criminal group's plan was truncated when the Tesla employee, who had been offered a million dollars, decided to report to the FBI. The case, which has followed the channels of an incident of a criminal nature, is full of unknowns, doubts and chiaroscuro. Despite having received the treatment of a common crime, the agent in charge of the investigation (assigned to contain intelligence tasks in North American territory) states in his report that the alleged offender uses methods and techniques typical of a field agent during operation. Intelligence.
In his report, the federal agent makes several notes in this regard. In addition, it deliberately omits sensitive information, about other large companies that allegedly would have been victims of the Russian organization before Tesla.
According to the FBI report, it is an operation planned from Russia that was intended to be carried out on North American territory. The first contact relevant to the case between the Tesla employee (about whom not much information about his identity is provided and who has the status of "confidential source") and the member of the Russian organization (identified as Kryuchkov in the affidavit of the FBI) was made through WhatsApp. However, both were old acquaintances since 2016 and had resumed communication through a third person (unidentified) at the end of July this year.
TWO OLD KNOWN
When both protagonists returned to contact by WhatsApp, Kriuchkov told the Tesla employee his intention to visit him during a trip to the United States that he had planned. Days later, Kryuchkov flew from Moscow to New York and entered the country legally on a tourist visa. In addition, he took advantage of his stop in the Big Apple to get several "clean" phone cards and paid for in cash.
Afterward, Kryuchkov flew from New York to San Francisco. From there, he traveled in a rented car to Nevada, where his compatriot who worked at Tesla resided.
The first meeting between the two took place on August 1. During the next three days, Kricuhkov stayed at the employee's home up to 5 times.
During this time, both (in the company of several acquaintances of the worker) took the opportunity to make excursions to nearby natural places. It was precisely in these escapades that Kryuchkov began to have suspicious behavior, as revealed in the FBI document.
"During the excursions, Kryuchkov expressly showed his desire not to appear in any photos, arguing that he did not need them to remember the beauty of the place. However, at the insistence of the rest of his fellow travelers, he ended up posing for a group picture. In addition He also did not use his mobile phone during this time, "the report states.
According to the agent in charge of the case, assigned to counterintelligence tasks and with 15 years of experience in the force, "individuals involved in criminal activities often make an effort not to leave evidence about their locations, avoid surveillance systems and do not take Photos".
During the trip, the assistants noticed that Kryuchkov insisted on paying all the expenses related to the escape. This young 27-year-old Russian justified his expense by claiming that he had won good money gambling at the casino.
"I know, thanks to my training and experience, that people involved in intelligence operations and criminal activities often spend money extravagantly in front of people who try to recruit or incorporate into their criminal activities," says the federal agent.
At the end of this trip, Kryuchkov told the Tesla employee that he would like to "talk business" the next day.
In this new face-to-face encounter they drank and got drunk in a restaurant. When they were both drunk enough, Kryuchkov piled up the cell phones, pushed them away, and jumped into the pool to try and recruit his compatriot.
Kryuchkov told him that he worked for a "group" that paid employees of large companies large sums of money. In return, they had to introduce malicious programs into their employer's computer systems.
The young Russian boasted that "the group" had carried out these "special projects" successfully on various occasions against other relevant companies. However, the names of the companies have been hidden from the FBI report submitted to the judge.
Kryuchkov also explained that the modus operandi of these "special projects" consisted of carrying out two simultaneous actions. One of them was carried out remotely over the internet in the form of a denial of services attack against a company. An attack that the "group" knew had no real chance of success but was intended to serve as a distraction. Meanwhile, the actual attack took place from within the company premises with a recruited employee who was in charge of infecting the company's networks with a malicious program, stored on a USB stick.
The aim of the action was that the professionals in charge of computer security were focused on repelling the external attack while the internal attack was completed successfully.
Once the trick was successfully executed, it was only necessary for "the group" to contact the company to ask for money for a ransom. Something that they had already achieved with success in previous operations, as Kryuchkov himself confessed to his compatriot on different occasions, even mentioning names of large companies affected by this technique. However, the names of these companies were omitted from the report that the FBI sent to the judge.
For the operation against Tesla, the job of the Tesla employee would consist of carrying out the attack from within and his task was very simple: insert a USB with malicious code into a computer connected to the company's network. In return, they offered him half a million dollars.
FROM COMPINCH TO INFORMANT
Days later, on August 7, Kryuchkov and his compatriot who works for the electric car company met again. This time, the meeting took place inside a car. However, they were not alone. The FBI was watching them.
Sometime between August 3-7, the Tesla worker betrayed his compatriot and contacted his company's security department. He alerted them to his plans and they, in turn, alerted the FBI. The worker had gone from being a possible accomplice to becoming an FBI informant.
During the meeting in the car, Kryuchkov tried to offer "guarantees" to his compatriot, who pretended to continue cooperating with the gang. They even hagged the reward, which amounted to $ 1 million. Kryuchkov also offered the informant the possibility of planting false evidence so that the traces of the crime would lead to a person of his choice.
"EL PACHÁ" AND "KITTY"
Over the next several weeks, both individuals continued to negotiate under the watchful eye of the FBI. During this time they agreed that the worker would receive advance payment as a token of good faith. To do this, they collaborated and planned a way to open a safe and "clean" wallet so that the advance was paid in Bitcoin. However, the FBI had already managed to tap into the virtual wallet as another way to collect information about the case.
During their frequent encounters, the informant spoke with other members of the gang (always hands-free through Kriuchov's cell phones).
The FBI document acknowledges that the Tesla employee spoke with a guy who used the alias "Pasha," which the feds refer to with that nickname in official documents. Pasha was the person responsible for approving the payments that the worker would receive for his collaboration with "the group." Although it is not mentioned in the FBI report, "Pasha" is the Latin transcription of a Russian word of Turkish origin, which was used to designate a high leader of the Ottoman Empire, usually in the military sphere, so it is very likely this man was responsible for the group. The Spanish translation of "Pasha" is Pachá.
Another member of the band is only identified as "Kisa". A Russian diminutive whose translation is "kitten". Kisa's task would be to "notify" (by means of a smiley face emoticon via WhatsApp) the Tesla employee of the