US and Russia vie for Czech extradition of alleged hacker

Moscow claims US is ‘hunting Russians around the world’

 LinkedIn: social networking website is among those allegedly hacked into by Yevgeny Nikulin.  Photograph: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

LinkedIn: social networking website is among those allegedly hacked into by Yevgeny Nikulin. Photograph: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

 

Both Russia and the United States have asked the Czech Republic to extradite a Russian citizen accused of hacking US social media, amid western concern over Moscow’s alleged use of computer attacks against foreign targets.

The case of Yevgeny Nikulin (29) is yet another bone of contention between Washington and Moscow, and intensifies scrutiny on the Czech Republic, an EU and Nato member whose president, Milos Zeman, is known for his pro-Russian views.

Czech police said co-operation with the FBI had resulted in the arrest of Mr Nikulin on October 5th, as he sat in the restaurant of a Prague hotel.

The US department of justice said a federal grand jury in Oakland, California, had indicted Mr Nikulin “for obtaining information from computers, causing damage to computers, trafficking in access devices, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy”.

“The indictment . . . alleges that Nikulin accessed computers belonging to LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, each of which has its headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Dark web transactions

LinkedIn said the arrest was connected with a 2012 hack that may have compromised the security of more than 100 million users, whose email and password details were reportedly put up for sale on the so-called dark web earlier this year.

Russia reacted angrily to Mr Nikulin’s detention, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling it “yet more proof that US law enforcement is hunting Russian citizens around the world”.

In August, a court in Seattle convicted the son of a Russian parliamentary deputy over a hacking scheme that stole millions of credit card numbers that were resold on the dark web, causing losses of $169 million (€160 million).

Roman Seleznyov (30) was seized by US agents as he boarded a plane to leave the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, where he was on holiday. The agents flew him to Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean, before transferring him to Seattle.

Russia’s foreign ministry compared that US operation to a “kidnapping”.

Czech officials confirmed on Wednesday that Prague had received extradition requests for Mr Nikulin from Russia and the US, who are at odds over issues across the globe, from Syria to Ukraine to events around the US election.

Email hacking

Two days after Mr Nikulin was detained in October on an Interpol warrant, the US announced it was “confident that the Russian government directed” the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the release of thousands of emails “to interfere with the US election process”.

“Such activity is not new to Moscow – the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe . . . that only Russia’s seniormost officials could have authorised these activities,” US security and intelligence officials said in a joint statement.

Mr Nikulin’s case could prove to be uncomfortable for the Czech Republic, where Mr Zeman has maintained warm relations with Russia while publicly rebuking the US envoy to Prague, a stance that put him at odds with his own government.