One of the FSB agents charged was Dmitry Dokuchaev, an officer in the FSB's Centre for Information Security, the office tasked with investigating cyber crimes.
The indictment announced by the U.S. Justice Department links Russia's top spy agency, the FSB, to the massive hacking operation which began in 2014 with the twin goals of espionage and financial gain.
One of the two Russian officers of the FSB, Dmitry Dokuchaev, was reportedly arrested in Russia in December and faces treason charges, raising questions about his allegiances and to whom the Kremlin thinks he was passing information. The intrusion, along with a second, earlier hack that exposed even more accounts, has complicated Yahoo's planned acquisition by Verizon Communications. The source added that "the absence of specifics in this case suggests this is the latest twist in the use of the subject of Russian hackers in the internal political struggle in the U.S".
However, the officials said, they believe that such charges are useful for sending a message that adversaries face consequences for targeting USA companies for traditional spying or financial gain.
"We have reason to believe, based on our evidence, they were acting in their capacity as FSB officials", said Mary McCord, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's national security division.
On Wednesday, prosecutors unsealed an indictment containing 47 criminal charges against the two agents of Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, as well as two outside hackers with whom they worked on the scheme, one of the largest known thefts of data from a private corporation.
"These FSB officers used criminal hackers to gain information that clearly, some of which, has intelligence value", said McCord.
Federal Bureau of Investigation posters carry details of what the agency claims are Russian hackers who penetrated Yahoo, possibly for years.
"Cyber crime poses a significant threat to our nation's security and prosperity, and this is one of the largest data breaches in history", said Attorney General Sessions. It's a Yahoo trade secret that contained user names, recovery email accounts, phone numbers and authenticating information for half a billion Yahoo accounts. Some of the accounts led Baratov to identify users who also had Google mail accounts, which he hacked.
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"As this indictment demonstrates, regardless of what methods are employed or where the criminal actors live, if you illegally target US citizens or American companies, you will be identified, pursued, and held to account wherever you are".
The case further blurs the lines between the Russian government and cybercriminals.
In the indictment, United States authorities name two hackers as Alexsey Alexseyevich Belan, aka "Magg", 29, a Russian national and resident; and Karim Baratov, aka "Kay", "Karim Taloverov" and "Karim Akehmet Tokbergenov", a 22-year-old Canadian and Kazakh national, resident in Canada.
United States intelligence chiefs said in a report issued in January that their investigations showed Putin oversaw the effort that included hacking Democratic computers and communications and releasing embarrassing documents via WikiLeaks in order to hurt the campaign of Trump's rival Hillary Clinton. Belan allegedly targeted anyone searching for erectile dysfunction medication.
Other individual targets named in the complaint include three employees from a US cloud services company, a senior officer at a Russian web service provider, 14 employees of a Swiss banking firm, a sales manager at a USA financial company, a gambling official in Nevada, an officer of a USA tech company, a senior officer of a large US airline, the CTO of a French transportation company and numerous people involved with a Russian financial company. He was paid $100 for each victim's credentials that he passed on to Dokuchaev.
US officials are set to charge four people overseas in connection to the Yahoo! hacks, according to a Bloomberg report. Baratov was arrested Tuesday in Canada. (The U.S. and Russian Federation do not have an extradition treaty.) "I think that is reflective of the relationship and the approach needed to take in this case in terms of the lack of cooperation we have gotten", he said.
Chief executive Marissa Mayer tweeted that Yahoo was "very grateful to the FBI & DOJ" for their work.
The U.S. government accused Russian Federation of directing some of the world's most notorious hackers to break into computer systems, namely a half-billion accounts at Yahoo (YHOO), in a broad scheme pairing cybercrime with intelligence gathering.
"All my friends know him too, and none of them know anything about his life", Le said.