A Russian man was sentenced Monday to what amounted to time already served and will be deported from the United States after pleading guilty to trying to pay a Tesla employee $500,000 to install computer malware at the company’s Nevada electric battery plant in a bid to steal company secrets for ransom.
Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, appearing by videoconference from jail, apologised after US District Judge Miranda Du in Reno acknowledged the attempted hack was not successful and the company network was not compromised. “I’m sorry for my decision. I regret it,” the 27-year-old Kriuchkov said through a Russian-language court interpreter. Chris Frey, his court-appointed lawyer, said Kriuchkov speaks fluent English, but the judge provided the interpreter anyway.
Kriuchkov said the nine months he has been in US custody made him reflect on the pain he caused his family in Russia and the damage caused to his reputation. Several family members sent email messages to the judge seeking leniency. “I understand it was a bad decision,” said Kriuchkov said, who could have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The judge, who agreed not to use the company name in court, went along with a plea agreement reached between prosecutors and Kriuchkov.
He was sentenced to 10 months in custody for his guilty plea in March to conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer; to pay about $14,825 in restitution for company time investigating the attempted intrusion and turning the case over to the FBI and; three years of federal supervision if he remains in the US or returns from abroad. He will remain in custody until he leaves the country.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged after Kruichkov’s arrest in August in Los Angeles that the company had been the target of what Musk termed a serious effort to collect company secrets. Federal authorities had said Kriuchkov was heading to an airport to fly out of the country. Tesla has a massive factory near Reno that makes batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage units. Company officials did not immediately respond Monday to messages seeking comment.
The judge put the amount Kriuchkov offered to pay the unidentified employee at $500,000. She did not address previous reports that the bribe amounted to $1m. Federal authorities credited the employee with reporting Kriuchkov’s overtures to company officials.
The hack was designed as a distributed denial-of-service attack, using junk data to flood the Tesla computer system, while a second intrusion would let co-conspirators extract data from the company network and demand ransom with the threat of making the information public. Other suspected co-conspirators are identified in court document by nicknames, and references are made to at least one other failed effort to target another unidentified company.
Kriuchkov told a judge in September that he knew the Russian government was aware of his case, but prosecutors and the FBI never alleged ties to the Kremlin. “There’s no question the offence is serious,” Du said, citing concerns about “these types of cyber-ransom offences” in the US and other countries. “Fortunately, the scheme was not successful.”