Tales of international cyber-espionage as Russians attempt to hold Tesla for ransom

In a story that could be straight out of a Hollywood movie, a Tesla employee has helped the FBI arrest a Russian-born suspect who was attempting to inject malware into Tesla’s network and hold the automaker for ransom.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the FBI Las Vegas Field office on August 25 2020, the suspect Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, was somehow able to befriend an employee at Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 in Sparks, Nevada. While the filing doesn’t explicitly name Tesla as “Victim Company A”, all facts point to the automaker being the intended target.

On July 16, before Kriuchkov arrived in the US, he sent a WhatsApp message to the employee, referred to as Confidential Human Source (CHS1) in the filing, asking to meet him in person.

The document alleges the suspect arrived in the US on July 28, and subsequently met with the employee on multiple occasions during the month of August. It was at some point after these meetings began when CHS1 contacted the FBI “because of patriotism to the United States and a perceived obligation to” Tesla. The FBI was able to secure his cooperation, and that is when the investigation and surveillance began.

In an attempt to get close to CHS1, Kriuchkov took a with the employee and two other associates to Lake Tahoe on August 2. During the trip, Kriuchkov did not want to be in any photos. In one instance detailed in the filing, he did not want to be in a picture of a sunset, saying he would “just remember the beauty of the sunset and did not need a photograph.

It was after this trip on August 3 when the suspect asked to meet the employee alone to discuss “business”. The FBI alleges during that encounter, the suspect asked the employee to introduce malware into Tesla’s network.

At first, the malware would appear as a DDoS attack, which would occupy IT security, concealing the real attack which would download data from the network. The group would then threaten to make the information public, unless a large ransom was paid.

In exchange for injecting the malware, the employee was initially offered $500,000. After some negotiations, the amount was increased to $1,000,000, payable in cash or bitcoin. During a meeting on August 19, Kriuchkov agreed to pay the employee an advance of $11,000.

Eventually on August 21, Kriuchkov told the employee during a meeting monitored by the FBI that the project was being delayed, that he was leaving the area on the following day, and no money would be transferred until a later date.

The FBI then contacted Kriuchkov, who subsequently drove overnight from Reno, Nevada, to Los Angeles in an attempt to fly out of the country.

He was arrested on August 22, 2020 in LA and is being detained pending trial.

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