Russian cyber treason charges are ancient

Treason charges against two Russian state security officers and a cyber-security expert are based on allegations made by a Russian businessman seven years ago.

The arrests concern allegations that the suspects passed secrets to US firm Verisign and other unidentified American companies, which in turn shared them with the US spooks.

Ruslan Stoyanov, head of the computer incidents investigation team at Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab, was arrested and charged with treason in December along with two officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchayev.

The arrests were a result of accusations first made in 2010 by Pavel Vrublevsky, a Russian businessman and founder of ChronoPay, an online payments company. Vrublevsky has told the press that that the arrests were a response to his claim that Stoyanov and Mikhailov had passed secrets on to American firms.

Verisign denies that it received any secret information. The firm’s iDefense unit compiled dossiers on cybercrime for clients including private firms and government agencies that include U.S. intelligence services, but it says its research did not contain classified information.

However, it did know Stoyanov, a former Russian cybercrime copper who later had a career as a consultant.

But Kimberly Zenz, a former analyst at Verisign’s iDefense unit who knows Stoyanov said that nothing like the arrangement as described by Pavel Vrublevsky ever took place.

Verisign Vice President Joshua Ray said his company acquired information in unclassified ways and does not believe its reports to government agencies and other customers included state secrets.

Kaspersky is just pointing out the charges against Stoyanov related to a period before he joined the company in 2012.

What is weird about the story is that the the Russian authorities had taken no action over the allegations made by Vrublevsky against Stoyanov and Mikhailov for so long.

The only coincidence is that the arrests came shortly after the United States accused Russia of trying to influence its presidential election through computer hacking.

It is thought that Moscow intends the arrests as a signal, in response to the US hacking accusations, that it would now take action against forms of cooperation that it previously tolerated.

After Vrublevsky first made his allegations against Stoyanov and Mikhailov, he was arrested and convicted on charges of organizing a cyber-attack on a rival Internet payments firm that competed with ChronoPay. He is now free on parole and has always denied guilt.