It feels like a plot from Mr. Robot or a modern James Bond film. A Russian citizen has been arrested by the FBI for trying to recruit an employee of the Tesla Gigafactory to contaminate the company’s intranet with malware for a multi-tier extortion plot.
27-year-old Egor Igorevich Kruichkov first contacted the Tesla employee based in Nevada on July 16, 2020, via Facebook-owned WhatsApp. He befriended them, and in early August, flew to the United States for vacation with the employee to Lake Tahoe. While there, he disclosed that he wanted to recruit them for his employers, a “group” which operates to extort companies.
Kruichkov offered the employee $500,000 to infect Tesla databases with a malware program, telling them it was simply ransomware, a program to disrupt the victim’s corporate network until the “group” was paid off. The employee demanded more, and Kruichkov increased his offer to $1 million. He also explained they had previously had other successes with the same tactic over the past four years, and that their other co-opted employees had never been caught out.
While details are sparse, the complaint given to the Justice Department suggests that the contacted employee swiftly began working with the FBI after this to gather more information on Kruichkov and his employers.
“To ease [the victim employee’s] concerns about getting caught, Kriuchkov claimed the oldest ‘project’ the ‘group’ had worked on took place three and a half years ago and the ‘group’s’ co-optee still worked for the company,” the FBI complaint says.
As they gathered more information, it came to light that the malware was not just ransomware, but that it would also loot data from the company’s databases about their customers and contracts to send back to Russia to be used for further blackmail.
After monitoring Kriuchkov’s meetings with the employee, the FBI chose to arrest him on Saturday, August 22, 2020, before any damage could be done. On August 24, 2020, Kriuchkov appeared in federal court. If charged, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of a quarter million dollars.
Photo: The Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada. Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com