Over the last week, I have had to respond to many media requests to discuss my take on the story about the two Russian spies and 2 other Russia-related hackers who stole 500 million records from Yahoo in 2014. The media questions asked were mainly focused on its impact on Yahoo and its customers. This is, of course, a major part of the story and as I stated to the reporters that I spoke with, consumers have to be much more aware these days that many nefarious people want their digital ID, credit cards, etc., and they need to take as many security precautions as they can to protect themselves.
But the bigger story was the direct connection of the Russian spies. It implies the Russian government was involved in this crime. This fact cannot be downplayed and, in fact, needs to be trumpeted loud and clear to our government officials who need to be more aware of and diligent of the fact Russia is very much behind this and other hacking ventures aimed at American citizens.
I have some experience with Russian spies; more specifically, the KGB and I know how ruthless they can be and how they will do anything to achieve their goals. In 1973, I was part of a group that went to Russia to protest the lack of religious freedom in that country. Back then, Leonid Brezhnev was in charge and he ruled Russia with an iron fist. Our group went in as student tourists and we kept the fact we planned to do a protest in Red Square during the May Day Parade very secret.
Somehow, the Russian government found out what we were doing and planted a “spy” in our group whose goal was to track and feed the KGB our plans. By that time, our Russian visas had been granted and, since our group had 12 countries represented, we were allowed to go into Russia via Finland to avoid a potential international incident. But we now know they tracked us every step of the way and made sure we never got to Moscow. We got as far as Kalinin when we were stopped and put under house arrest and then kicked out of the country. During the day and a half it took for us to drive back out of the country, we had to deal with two high ranking KGB officials who were hopping mad at us and made life quite miserable during that time.
That experience taught me a lot about Russian spies, the KGB, and their ultimate goal to get what they want no matter what it takes. In fact, even after we got to Finland, we were tailed by two Russian spies all the way back to Stockholm before we finally shook them off as they were trying to find out who put us up to this “adventure.”
What the Russian spies did to Yahoo I fear is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Russian-sponsored hacking of tech companies at many levels and, possibly, other government agencies and officials as well. I understand the need for diplomacy and why our government has to tread lightly but the evidence we now have of Russia’s direct involvement in the Yahoo case should give us enough pause to be even more suspicious of the fact that, at the very least, Russia has our tech companies in their sights. Because they can and will protect their spies involved in this case from any form of US prosecution, they will be emboldened to do more of the same in the future.