Russian Man Pleads Guilty in Tesla Extortion Plot

A Russian national has pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy to extort motoring giant Tesla via data-stealing ransomware.

Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer and is expected to be sentenced on May 10.

The case itself first broke last August, after Tesla boss Elon Musk cited a news report on the story, tweeting: “Much appreciated. This was a serious attack.”

According to court documents, Kriuchkov travelled first from Russia to California and then made numerous subsequent trips to Nevada in August 2020. His mission was to entice a Tesla employee there to participate in the scheme.

However, the employee — who is said to be a Russian-speaking non-US citizen — reported Kruichkov to his managers, who then contacted the FBI.

The end goal was apparently to install data-stealing ransomware from the inside, with which to extort Tesla out of millions of dollars. The insider was reportedly offered $1 million for his help in the conspiracy.

Kriuchkov is said to have initially contacted the unnamed employee via WhatsApp, before meeting him socially several times from August 1-3, including during a trip to Lake Taho with other Tesla employees. The Russian reportedly gave the insider a burner phone and told him to leave it in airplane mode until the funds were transferred.

The DoJ statement on the case doesn’t mention ransomware but instead focuses on the data theft element of the plot.

“This case highlights our office’s commitment to protecting trade secrets and other confidential information belonging to US businesses — which is becoming even more important each day as Nevada evolves into a center for technological innovation,” said acting US attorney Christopher Chiou for the District of Nevada.

“Along with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to prioritize stopping cyber-criminals from harming American companies and consumers.”

Given the audacity of the conspiracy and the willingness of Kruichkov to recruit an insider face-to-face, there are suspicions that current or former state operatives could have been involved.

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