(Bloomberg) -- Prosecutors in Moscow suspect that U.S. intelligence compromised one of Russia’s most senior cybersecurity officials and have charged him and at least two others with treason in the case, according to a lawyer involved.
The three were detained in December and include Sergei Mikhailov, who was a top official in the information-security division of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, and Dmitry Dokuchaev, a member of his staff. The third suspect to be named publicly is Ruslan Stoyanov, a manager at Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity company.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the case isn’t linked to the alleged hacking of U.S. political parties and election boards that roiled the presidential campaign last year. He called such charges -- made by U.S. intelligence late last year -- “absurd insinuations.”
The three men have been charged with treason for allegedly “interacting” with U.S intelligence, said Ivan Pavlov, a defense lawyer in the case. He declined to name his client, citing confidentiality. “What we know is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said in an interview. “We have very limited access to information.”
The FSB didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. Other lawyers in the case couldn’t be located. The suspects are all being held in pre-trial detention and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, Pavlov said. Kaspersky last week confirmed Stoyanov’s arrest but said the alleged crimes didn’t relate to his work at the company and predated his employment there.
Stoyanov worked in cybersecurity at Russia’s Interior Ministry before joining Kaspersky. Once at the company, Stoyanov worked closely with Mikhailov’s department at the FSB, and the two interacted as part an anti-DDoS project the company developed for clients in Russia, according to a person familiar with the cybersecurity firm.
“As a private company, Kaspersky Lab has no political ties to any government, and is proud to collaborate with authorities of many countries and international law-enforcement agencies to fight cybercrime, including anti-DDoS protection efforts,” the company said in response to a request for comment, adding that it doesn’t help any government in offensive efforts.
Few details of the investigation, which has been underway for at least a year, have been made public, though local media have reported often-conflicting accounts of the case citing unnamed sources.
The accusations date back to 2012, according to one person familiar with the case, who asked for anonymity to discuss confidential matters. Pavlov declined to comment on details of the charges. He said there are other defendants as well, but didn’t identify them.
Russian media have reported that the case could be connected to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s warning last August about unauthorized attempts to access the computers of election boards in Arizona and Illinois. The owner of the Russian server company later linked to those contacts, Vladimir Fomenko, said he wasn’t involved in the treason probe and doesn’t know the suspects.
Pavlov, the lawyer, also dismissed another explanation of the case reported in the Russian media, which suggested a link to hacking attacks in recent years on high-profile Russian officials by a group that called itself Shaltay Boltay (Humpty Dumpty in Russian). The group published purloined e-mails from senior officials, including top Kremlin aides.
A Moscow court late last year ordered former journalist Vladimir Anikeev held on charges of unauthorized access to computer information by an organized group. He had been detained in November. Russian media have reported he was linked to Shaltay Boltay, although that hasn’t been confirmed officially. His lawyer couldn’t be reached.
--With assistance from Evgenia Pismennaya and Michael Riley
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