Tesla news can sometimes feel like one is reading science-fiction or in this case, a Russian spy novel. This is a story of attempted espionage, a thwarted cybersecurity strike, and one hero (Mr. X) working with the FBI. Yet, it’s the latest in Tesla’s headlines.
It all started with a group of Tesla employees that included Mr. X getting friendly with a Russian citizen, Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov. Their socializing even extended to taking a trip to Lake Tahoe. The group of friendly colleagues later reflected how Kriuchkov avoided getting his photo taken throughout the trip and at one point commented that he will “remember the beauty of the sunset and did not need a photograph.”
Mr. X who works at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada is not a US citizen and can speak Russian. But he did have access to the EV auto manufacturer’s computer network. And it was after the Lake Tahoe break that Kriuchkov contacted Mr. X via WhatsApp requesting a private meeting in Sparks, Nevada. It seems obvious that Egor did his homework in finding a Russian speaking, computer geek at Tesla.
So, Mr. X goes ahead and meets with Egor Kriuchkov, who then divulged his secret plan. He wanted Mr. X to install malware, provided by Kriuchkov, into Tesla’s network. Once the malware was installed, it would trigger a DDoS attack (distributed denial of service) which would allow Kriuchkov’s team of hackers to extract sensitive company data. What they wanted to do with the data was to hold the company to ransom. For his efforts, Mr. X would get paid $1 million with an up-front fee of $500,000.
Luckily for Tesla and unlucky for Kriuchkov, Mr. X had his moral compass pointing in the right direction and reported the intentions of Egor to Tesla, who then contacted the FBI. They came up with a ploy to have Mr. X continue communications with Kriuchkov to get him to reveal as much as possible about the hacker’s infrastructure and procedures. It all paid off with the hacker bragging how they extorted a ransom of over $4 million from another high-profile company, CWT Travel.
On 19 August, the FBI planted wires on Mr. X before his next meeting with Kriuchkov. At the meeting, he agreed to pay Mr. X an advance of $11,000; however, Egor must have got wind that something was amiss. Two days later he contacted Mr. X to say the plan and the payment is being delayed, and that he was leaving the area. He then made a run for it by driving overnight from Reno to Los Angeles. The following day, Kriuchkov was intercepted and arrested and is now waiting for his trial.
The Department of Justice revealed the arrest of Egor Kriuchkov and was being charged with conspiring to violate the US company’s network. Elon Musk confirmed this indeed did occur after taking to Twitter with this comment:
Much appreciated. This was a serious attack.
The criminal complaint that was filed implies this attempt at a cybersecurity breach was not your usual hacking effort, but rather that of something that was very organized and well-financed.
Tesla was able to escape this plot and they have Mr. X to thank for that. $1 million is a big temptation and certainly would have cost Tesla a hefty sum. But it goes to show that greed does not sit in the hearts of all men. We can only hope Musk will surely give Mr. X a big bonus for his honesty...or a free Tesla car.
You can read the complaint made by the FBI against Kriuchkov here.