Musk: Tesla Was Target of Russian Ransomware Conspiracy

Elon Musk has confirmed that Tesla was the target of a ransomware conspiracy to infect a Nevada-based company revealed this week.

The multi-billionaire technology entrepreneur tweeted yesterday in response to a news article on the story: “Much appreciated. This was a serious attack.”

The conspiracy itself reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie. Partially revealed in court documents on Tuesday, it concerns a Russian national’s alleged efforts to recruit an employee at Tesla to help his gang to install malware on the company’s network.

The end goal was to steal sensitive data and deploy ransomware in a classic one-two which meant the firm would have to pay-up or risk the stolen information going public, even if it had backups.

After the malware was deployed with help of the insider, who had network access, a DDoS attack would be launched by the gang to distract Tesla’s IT team, it was alleged.

The employee, a Russian-speaking non-US citizen, was apparently approached by Russian Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, who is now facing trial for his role in the conspiracy.

The Tesla employee was reportedly offered $1m to help with the plot.

Kriuchkov is said to have initially contacted the staffer via WhatsApp, before meeting him socially several times from August 1-3, including a trip to Lake Taho with other Tesla employees. After revealing his plan, the Russian is said to have given the employee a burner phone and told him to leave it in airplane mode until the funds were transferred.

The tale highlights the increasingly sophisticated planning and audacity of modern cybercrime gangs: in targeting, grooming and then offering the Russian employee a huge sum for his help in the conspiracy. Some commentators suspect the involvement of current or former state-linked operatives.

In one conversation between the two, Kriuchkov reportedly boasted that his gang had recently received over $4m from another corporate victim, presumed to be CWT Travel. The anecdote highlights the importance of ransomware victims following best practice advice and refusing to pay-up.

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