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As Trump Seeks Improved Russian Ties, Tough Times For Russian Hackers?

Russian Cybercriminal

Even as President Donald Trump seeks to strengthen ties with Russia, times may be tough for a small subset of that country’s population — namely, hackers.

Reuters reports that thus far into 2017, seven Russians have been either indicted or arrested in the United States on charges of criminal cyber activity.  That’s a big jump over the two extraditions of Russians to the U.S. on similar charges seen annually from 2010 through 2016.  The tally comes from a review by the newswire of Justice Department records, and from statements from the Russian government, among other sources, said the newswire.

The accelerated activity on the cybercrime front comes, of course, against a backdrop of statements from the intelligence community that Russia used cyber tactics to interfere with the presidential election last year. Those findings have been denied by the Russian government.

As relates to cybersecurity, Trump has proposed a joint security unit between Russia and the U.S., among other efforts.

Sources, including four U.S. federal law enforcement officials, said that there has been “no centralized effort” to boost activities against Russian hackers under the Trump administration — the arrests came as investigations yielded results before the 2016 elections. The Justice Department had no comment beyond stating that it does not track arrests across nationality.

In one example cited by Reuters, Alexander Vinnik was arrested in July in Greece on charges of money laundering.  The Justice Department has said he laundered about $4 billion through BTC-e, a digital currency exchange, over several years stretching back to 2011.  If he is extradited to the States he could face as many as 55 years in prison.

Reuters noted that a few U.S. officials contend that “individual agents” in the U.S. may be spurred to snare hackers in the wake of the election hacking activities.  That dovetails with increased resources targeting cyberfraud done by Russian nationals stemming from before the election, as John Carlin, who had run the national security division of the Justice Department as assistant attorney general until late last year, told the newswire.

One impact so far: Reuters said that interviews with five unnamed sources who knew those arrested this year revealed some fear within the Russian hacking community about being targeted and arrested.  Hackers are cutting back on cross border trips that had been seen as “calculated risks” as part of their trade but now are being seen as “increasingly foolhardy.”

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