The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday is expected to announce charges against at least two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with the hack of some 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014.
The move represents the first time that U.S. has formally targeted Russian government officials with criminal cyber charges.
The charges include hacking, wire fraud, trade secret theft and economic espionage, according to the Washington Post citing officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The case is unrelated to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee or the investigation of Russia’s interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election. At the same time, the move does show that the U.S. is escalating its efforts to hold foreign governments accountable, something that at least the U.S. has been reluctant to do due to the unique issues that are involved in cyber hacking cases and the ramifications that such cases involve.
While the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia — meaning that Russia is under no obligation to turn over to the U.S. the government officials charged — officials believe that taking the steps and imposing sanctions can act as a deterrent. Additionally, it does place significant limitations on the individuals’ ability to travel as they would be subject to capture if they find themselves in countries that do have arrangements with the U.S.
The 2014 hack was publicly reported by Yahoo just last fall. It is considered the largest data breach in history. A few months later, the company announced an additional intrusion affecting over one billion accounts in 2013.
The breaches have created a significant barrier for the proposed sale of the internet icon’s core business to communications giant, Verizon. So far, it has not completely derailed the sale, but has resulted in a discount on the original price on which the two companies agreed.