A man pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday for his role in helping Russian spies hack into email accounts.
Karim Baratov, a 22-year-old Kazakhstan-born Canadian citizen, was arrested in Toronto in March before waiving his right to fight extradition to the U.S. earlier this year. Baratov is charged, along with three other men including two intelligence agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for a role in the 2014 data breach where information tied to 500 million Yahoo accounts was stolen.
Baratov pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts including conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse and aggravated identity theft.
American prosecutors say Baratov worked under the order and pay of the FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin. When FSB targets had non-Yahoo emails, the agency allegedly paid Baratov to break into at least 80 accounts. At least 50 of the targets Baratov allegedly hacked used Gmail.
The defendant’s lawyers said that, at the time of the crime, Baratov had no idea he was working with FSB agents.
Prosecutors recommended for 70 to 87 months in jail for the first charge and 24 months for the identity theft charges. A sentencing hearing will be held on Feb. 20, 2018.
Baratov’s capture is the only arrest resulting from this investigation. The three other men charged all currently reside in Russia. No extradition agreement exists between the United States and Russia, meaning the charges will likely not result in any prosecution unless the men are caught outside of Russia.
Other alleged Russian hackers have been caught across Europe in exactly that way.