October 2, 2023

Nikita Kislitsin, previously the pinnacle of community safety for one in every of Russia’s prime cybersecurity corporations, was arrested final week in Kazakhstan in response to 10-year-old hacking prices from the U.S. Division of Justice. Specialists say Kislitsin’s prosecution might quickly put the Kazakhstan authorities in a sticky diplomatic place, because the Kremlin is already signaling that it intends to dam his extradition to the USA.

Nikita Kislitsin, at a safety convention in Russia.

Kislitsin is accused of hacking into the now-defunct social networking website Formspring in 2012, and conspiring with one other Russian man convicted of stealing tens of thousands and thousands of usernames and passwords from LinkedIn and Dropbox that very same yr.

In March 2020, the DOJ unsealed two prison hacking indictments towards Kislitsin, who was then head of safety at Group-IB, a cybersecurity firm that was based in Russia in 2003 and operated there for greater than a decade earlier than relocating to Singapore.

Prosecutors in Northern California indicted Kislitsin in 2014 for his alleged position in stealing account information from Formspring. Kislitsin additionally was indicted in Nevada in 2013, however the Nevada indictment doesn’t identify his alleged sufferer(s) in that case.

Nevertheless, paperwork unsealed within the California case point out Kislitsin allegedly conspired with Yevgeniy Nikulin, a Russian man convicted in 2020 of stealing 117 million usernames and passwords from Dropbox, Formspring and LinkedIn in 2012. Nikulin is at the moment serving a seven-year sentence within the U.S. jail system.

As first reported by Cyberscoop in 2020, a trial brief within the California investigation recognized Nikulin, Kislitsin and two alleged cybercriminals — Oleg Tolstikh and Oleksandr Vitalyevich Ieremenko — as being current throughout a 2012 assembly at a Moscow lodge, the place contributors allegedly mentioned beginning an web café enterprise.

A 2010 indictment out of New Jersey accuses Ieremenko and 6 others with siphoning nonpublic data from the U.S. Securities & Alternate Fee (SEC) and public relations corporations, and making $30 million in unlawful inventory trades based mostly on the proprietary data they stole.

[The U.S. Secret Service has an outstanding $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Ieremenko (Александр Витальевич Еременко), who allegedly went by the hacker handles “Zl0m” and “Lamarez.”]

Kislitsin was employed by Group-IB in January 2013, almost six months after the Formspring hack. Group-IB has since moved its headquarters to Singapore, and in April 2023 the corporate introduced it had absolutely exited the Russian market.

In an announcement offered to KrebsOnSecurity, Group-IB stated Mr. Kislitsin is not an worker, and that he now works for a Russian group referred to as FACCT, which stands for “Combat Towards Cybercrime Applied sciences.”

“Dmitry Volkov, co-founder and CEO, offered his stake in Group-IB’s Russia-based enterprise to the corporate’s native administration,” the assertion reads. “The stand-alone enterprise in Russia has been working below the brand new model FACCT ever since and can proceed to function as a separate firm with no connection to Group-IB.”

FACCT says on its web site that it’s a “Russian developer of applied sciences for combating cybercrime,” and that it really works with purchasers to battle focused assaults, information leaks, fraud, phishing and model abuse. In an announcement published online, FACCT stated Kislitsin is answerable for growing its community safety enterprise, and that he stays below non permanent detention in Kazakhstan “to check the premise for extradition arrest on the request of the USA.”

“In keeping with the knowledge we have now, the claims towards Kislitsin will not be associated to his work at FACCT, however are associated to a case greater than 10 years in the past when Nikita labored as a journalist and impartial researcher,” FACCT wrote.

From 2006 to 2012, Kislitsin was editor-in-chief of “Hacker,” a well-liked Russian-language month-to-month journal that features articles on data and community safety, programming, and often options interviews with and articles penned by notable or needed Russian hackers.

“We’re satisfied that there are not any authorized grounds for detention on the territory of Kazakhstan,” the FACCT assertion continued. “The corporate has employed attorneys who’ve been offering Nikita with all the required help since final week, and we have now additionally despatched an enchantment to the Consulate Normal of the Russian Federation in Kazakhstan to help in defending our worker.”

FACCT indicated that the Kremlin has already intervened within the case, and the Russian authorities claims Kislitsin is needed on prison prices in Russia and should as a substitute be repatriated to his homeland.

“The FACCT emphasizes that the announcement of Nikita Kislitsin on the needed checklist within the territory of the Russian Federation grew to become recognized solely right now, June 28, 6 days after the arrest in Kazakhstan,” FACCT wrote. “The corporate is monitoring developments.”

The Kremlin adopted the same playbook within the case of Aleksei Burkov, a cybercriminal who lengthy operated two of Russia’s most unique underground hacking boards. Burkov was arrested in 2015 by Israeli authorities, and the Russian authorities fought Burkov’s extradition to the U.S. for 4 years — even arresting and jailing an Israeli girl on phony drug prices to pressure a prisoner swap.

That effort in the end failed: Burkov was despatched to America, pleaded responsible, and was sentenced to 9 years in jail.

Alexei Burkov, seated second from proper, attends a listening to in Jerusalem in 2015. Picture: Andrei Shirokov / Tass through Getty Pictures.

Arkady Bukh is a U.S. legal professional who has represented dozens of accused hackers from Russia and Jap Europe who have been extradited to the USA through the years. Bukh stated Moscow is more likely to flip the Kislitsin case right into a diplomatic time bomb for Kazakhstan, which shares an unlimited border and quite a lot of cultural ties with Russia. A 2009 census discovered that Russians make up about 24 % of the inhabitants of Kazakhstan.

“That might put Kazakhstan at a crossroads to decide on between unity with Russia or going with the West,” Bukh stated. “If that occurs, Kazakhstan could need to make some very disagreeable selections.”

Group-IB’s exodus from Russia comes as its former founder and CEO Ilya Sachkov stays languishing in a Russian jail, awaiting a farcical trial and an inevitable conviction on prices of treason. In September 2021, the Kremlin issued treason prices towards Sachkov, though it has thus far refused to reveal any particulars concerning the allegations.

Sachkov’s pending treason trial has been the topic of a lot hypothesis amongst denizens of Russian cybercrime boards, and the consensus appears to be that Sachkov and Group-IB have been seen as a bit of too useful to the DOJ in its numerous investigations involving prime Russian hackers.

Certainly, since its inception in 2003, Group-IB’s researchers have helped to establish, disrupt and even catch plenty of high-profile Russian hackers, most of whom acquired busted after years of prison hacking as a result of they made the unforgivable mistake of stealing from their very own residents.

When the indictments towards Kislitsin have been unsealed in 2020, Group-IB issued a prolonged assertion testifying to his character and saying they’d assist him together with his authorized protection. As a part of that assertion, Group-IB famous that “representatives of the Group-IB firm and, specifically, Kislitsin, in 2013, on their very own initiative, met with staff of the US Division of Justice to tell them concerning the analysis work associated to the underground, which was carried out by Kislitsin in 2012.”