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Russia Sends Cybersecurity CEO to Jail for 14 Years

The Russian government today handed down a treason conviction and 14-year prison sentence on Iyla Sachkov, the former founder and CEO of one of Russia’s largest cybersecurity firms. Sachkov, 37, has been detained for nearly two years under charges that the Kremlin has kept classified and hidden from public view, and he joins a growing roster of former Russian cybercrime fighters who are now serving hard time for farcical treason convictions.

Ilya Sachkov. Image: Group-IB.com.

In 2003, Sachkov founded Group-IB, a cybersecurity and digital forensics company that quickly earned a reputation for exposing and disrupting large-scale cybercrime operations, including quite a few that were based in Russia and stealing from Russian companies and citizens.

In September 2021, the Kremlin issued treason charges against Sachkov, although it has refused to disclose any details about the allegations. Sachkov pleaded not guilty. After a three-week “trial” that was closed to the public, Sachkov was convicted of treason and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for 18 years.

Group-IB relocated its headquarters to Singapore several years ago, although it did not fully exit the Russian market until April 2023. In a statement, Group-IB said that during their founder’s detainment, he was denied the right to communicate — no calls, no letters — with the outside world for the first few months, and was deprived of any visits from family and friends.

“Ultimately, Ilya has been denied a chance for an impartial trial,” reads a blog post on the company’s site. “All the materials of the case are kept classified, and all hearings were held in complete secrecy with no public scrutiny. As a result, we might never know the pretext for his conviction.”

Prior to his arrest in 2021, Sachkov publicly chastised the Kremlin for turning a blind eye to the epidemic of ransomware attacks coming from Russia. In a speech covered by the Financial Times in 2021, Sachkov railed against the likes of Russian hacker Maksim Yakubets, the accused head of a hacking group called Evil Corp. that U.S. officials say has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade.

“Yakubets has been spotted driving around Moscow in a fluorescent camouflage Lamborghini, with a custom licence plate that reads ‘THIEF,’” FT’s Max Seddon wrote. “He also ‘provides direct assistance to the Russian government’s malicious cyber efforts,’ according to US Treasury sanctions against him.”

In December 2021, Bloomberg reported that Sachkov was alleged to have given the United States information about the Russian “Fancy Bear” operation that sought to influence the 2016 U.S. election. Fancy Bear is one of several names (e.g., APT28) for an advanced Russian cyber espionage group that has been linked to the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.

In 2019, a Moscow court meted out a 22-year prison sentence for alleged treason charges against Sergei Mikhailov, formerly deputy chief of Russia’s top anti-cybercrime unit. The court also levied a 14-year sentence against Ruslan Stoyanov, a senior employee at Kaspersky Lab. Both men maintained their innocence throughout the trial, and the supposed reason for the treason charges has never been disclosed.

Following their dramatic arrests in 2016, some media outlets reported that the men were suspected of having tipped off American intelligence officials about those responsible for Russian hacking activities tied to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

That’s because two others arrested for treason at the same time — Mikhailov subordinates Georgi Fomchenkov and Dmitry Dokuchaev — were reported by Russian media to have helped the FBI investigate Russian servers linked to the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.