SAN FRANCISCO — Just past 8 a.m. on March 14, police trod quietly through the snow to the double-fronted doors of Karim Baratov’s lavish home in Ancaster, Ontario. The officers passed by the garage where Baratov’s jet-black Mercedes Benz and Aston Martin DBS were parked, two of the only outward indications that the 22-year-old had money to spend. Minutes later, they took the Canadian-Kazakh hacker away into custody — a subdued end to an international cyber drama that involved the highest levels of the US government, Russian spies, a global cybercrime syndicate, and hundreds of millions of unsuspecting Americans.The baby-faced Baratov is currently awaiting trial in the US on charges that he helped hack into half a billion Yahoo accounts — the largest known hack in history. His co-conspirators are Alexsey Belan, 29, a notorious Russian hacker still at large, and two Russian intelligence officers, Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43. The case against them is the starkest public example of the ways in which the Russian government works with cybercriminals to achieve its global agenda through cyberwarfare, and why those attacks have proven so difficult for governments around the world to track, let alone prosecute.
Left to right: Baratov, Dokuchaev, and Sushchin.
Baratov, according to accounts given by US law enforcement, was a hacker for hire. It appears he simply took the wrong job.“The Yahoo hack is a great example of the US government coming forward and saying we know what you are doing and we can prove it,” said Milan Patel, the former chief technology officer of the FBI’s cyber division and now managing director at the K2 Intelligence cybersecurity firm. “In the past the US and Russia engaged in a lot of tit-for-tat covert operations. But with Russia now, a lot is coming to the forefront and being made public about how they run their cyberactivities.”
“We would tip them off about a person we were looking for, and they would mysteriously disappear, only to appear later on working for the Russian government.”
That’s not always how it was. In the mid-2000s, FBI agents tried to work with their counterparts in the FSB, Russia's Federal Security Service, to investigate hacke