BOSTON – In a tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk solved a mystery involving a 27-year-old Russian, an insider at an unnamed corporation and an alleged million-dollar payment offered to help trigger a ransomware extortion attack on the firm.
Prosecutors declined to name the target, but Musk was happy to oblige. According to the billionaire, the scheme took aim at the electric car company’s 1.9 million-square-foot factory in Sparks, Nevada, which makes batteries for Tesla vehicles and energy storage units.
Defendant Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov tried to recruit a fellow Russian speaker who worked at the plant, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada.
Reaching out to the unnamed worker via WhatsApp in July, Kriuchkov allegedly flew to the United States with a Russian passport on a tourist visa and sought to entice the worker to betray Tesla. Kriuchkov allegedly took the worker, who he’d he’d first met in 2016, on a road trip to Lake Tahoe before offering the person $1 million to plant malware on computer systems at “Victim Company A.” Kriuchkov floated the scheme at a Reno area bar on Aug. 3 after the two drank heavily until last call, the complaint says.
But the plant worker informed Tesla, which contacted the FBI and won the employee's cooperation. In subsequent meetings monitored and recorded by federal agents, Kriuchkov laid out a scheme to have the worker infect Tesla computers with a program that would steal valuable data before scrambling plant systems with ransomware, according to the complaint.
Kriuchkov was quoted as saying the inside job would be camouflaged with a distributed denial of service attack on plant computers from outside. Such attacks overwhelm servers with junk traffic. If Tesla didn’t pay, the purloined data would be dumped on the open internet.
The complaint says Kriuchkov told the Tesla worker that his organization had executed similar “special projects” on other companies on multiple occasions, with one victim supposedly surrendering a $4 million ransom payment. According to the complaint, Kriuchkov added that his organization employed sophisticated encryption that would mask the Tesla worker's participation and mentioned that one hacker in his group was a high-level employee of a government bank in Russia.