Russian hacking group's 'last member at liberty' comes out of the shadows
时间：2019-09-08 责任编辑：漆雕钱 来源：澳门拉斯维加斯 点击：56 次
Wearing a Christmas jumper emblazoned with reindeer, Alexander sits in a bar in Riga. He has a remarkable story to tell. After several years hiding in the shadows, he is, or at least claims to be, the last member still at large of Russia’s most notorious band of hackers and leakers.
Shaltai-Boltai, or Humpty Dumpty, terrorised Russian officials for nearly three years, combining hacking, leaking and extortion, while retaining an impenetrable cloak of anonymity. The group would post online samples of emails from officials they had hacked, and put the rest of the cache up for sale: the incriminating information could then either be bought back by the original sender, or snapped up by enemies.
But in mid-December, Shaltai-Boltai’s suddenly went quiet, and in late January Russian media claimed the group’s founder, named as Vladimir Anikeyev, had been arrested.
The case took on an extra layer of intrigue when it was reported that two of Russia’s top cybersecurity agents at the FSB , along with an expert from Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. Sources briefed Russian media outlets that the FSB security officers were accused of working for the CIA, and linked the case to Shaltai-Boltai.
Coming so soon after US intelligence for hacking the Democratic party, as part of an attempt to help get Donald Trump elected, the arrests raised eyebrows. Was Shaltai-Boltai a conduit for passing information to the CIA, or was the meshing of the two cases a way of obscuring the real truth about why the FSB agents were in trouble? The rumour mill went into overdrive, and each day brought fresh leaks and new theories, with varying degrees of plausibility.
Trolling the Kremlin
Enter Alexander, 39, who did not want his surname revealed for now. There was no way of verifying his story in full, but he provided a screenshot of correspondence between the Guardian and the hacker group in 2015, as well as photographs of him with Anikeyev. He also noted, correctly, that when this reporter met a verified Shaltai-Boltai representative on a boat in a European capital in 2015, the pair drank whisky.
Alexander said he had known Anikeyev, whom he described as the driving force behind Shaltai-Boltai, for more than a decade. In late 2013, Anikeyev, who worked for a St Petersburg agency specialising in the shadowy world of “black PR”, suggested the pair work together to create a new site giving a platform to hacked official correspondence. Bored with his telecoms marketing job, Alexander agreed.
“I thought it would be good to troll the Kremlin, and to try to change something in the country,” Alexander said. “But he [Anikeyev] also said we could make some money with it too.” Some of the first things Shaltai-Boltai published really did seem to have political undertones, notably emails that detailed Moscow’s role in stirring unrest in east Ukraine.
Alexander claimed Anikeyev was no master-hacker - “he didn’t even know how to use a VPN connection properly, I had to show him” - but simply paid anonymous hackers on web forums to obtain passwords to the webmail accounts of Russian officials.
Alexander said his work focused on analysing emails and writing blogposts, and that Anikeyev paid him a cut each month depending on how well the site had done. The pair met in person now and then, often in Thailand, but otherwise would communicate using secure messages. He estimated the total turnover of the site to be “between $1m and $2m” during its three years of operation.
With time, the focus of Shaltai-Boltai’s activities shifted from political statement to straight extortion.
The group used an “information exchange” set up by an anonymous third party to make sales in bitcoin. It did not know if it was selling the files back to the person it had hacked them from, or to others.
“We’re just like WikiLeaks, but with us, people can get solidly remunerated for their information,” said an anonymous response to a message sent to the information exchange’s email address. The responder also confirmed he or she believed Alexander to be a member of Shaltai-Boltai.
Alexander claimed that in May last year, Anikeyev went to , having been given safety assurances, to meet an FSB official. According to Alexander, the official suggested that Shaltai-Boltai could continue to operate, but that the intelligence agency wanted the right of veto, and to be able to leak information through it.
Alexander said: “He [Anikeyev] told me the FSB knew who we were, but wouldn’t touch us if we cooperated.”
In November, Anikeyev travelled to Russia again, but this time he was arrested. Perhaps the deal had gone sour, or perhaps he had been caught by agents for a different intelligence service – Russia’s multitude of intelligence agencies are notoriously competitive.
A few days after going dark, Anikeyev contacted Alexander, claiming he had been released by authorities, and that Shaltai-Boltai would continue. “But the deal was that we had to be based in Moscow, and he asked me to move there,” Alexander said.
That sounded odd, so Alexander asked Anikeyev if he was speaking under duress. He said he was not, and he did not use a codeword the pair had agreed on if one of them was arrested.
To make sure Anikeyev really was at liberty, Alexander told him to go to a branch of Jean-Jacques, a chain of French cafes in Moscow, and take a selfie, and a photograph of the receipt. Two hours later, Anikeyev sent the photos. Later, Alexander called the cafe, and asked the waitress how many people had been sitting at table five, mentioned on the receipt. Only one person, she replied.
After that, Anikeyev would appear online for a couple of hours a day. Two other members of the group travelled to Moscow, but Alexander was not convinced. “Somehow, the whole story smelled like rotten fish. I told him I wouldn’t come to Moscow, and that I quit.”
Both of the other men are now apparently under arrest, and in December, Anikeyev went completely dark and the Shaltai-Boltai accounts stopped functioning. Alexander found himself locked out. At the end of January, news broke of the arrests.
Shaltai-Boltai and the missing jigsaw pieces
Alexander said he was in Asia at the time, but travelled to Estonia within the past week, having first paid a trusted contact to peek into Interpol’s systems and check Russia had not yet put him on the wanted list. He drove to Riga, Latvia, to meet the Guardian. He said he planned to claim asylum in Estonia, and had contacted the journalists with whom members of Shaltai-Boltai had met in the past.
Alexander’s story, if true, is a sizeable missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is the Shaltai-Boltai story, but many other gaps remain.
Was Anikeyev trying to lure his friends and colleagues back to Moscow as a trap? What link, if any, does he have to the FSB men arrested? And can it really just be a coincidence that weeks after US intelligence accused Russia of hacking the election, two of the country’s most senior intelligence officials are arrested on charges of treason, allegedly for passing secrets to the Americans?
Anikeyev’s lawyer, Ruslan Koblev, told the Guardian he believed Anikeyev has been behind bars since his arrest in November, which would suggest any contact made with others was done under intelligence supervision. Koblev spoke with Anikeyev by telephone in November and believed him to be under arrest at that time.
Koblev said Anikeyev had verbally admitted the charges of unauthorised access to electronic information, but denied all connection to the treason case.
“There is no connection [to the FSB case], I was very concerned when I saw this information in the media. I asked him if it’s connected, he said he didn’t even know these people. They are different cases,” he said. He added that the investigators on the cases are different.
This is backed up by Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer specialising in treason cases, who has said he is defending one of the men accused of treason, though he refused to specify which one. He told the Guardian he was limited in what he could say about the case, but conceded that US intelligence featured in the papers. He added that his client planned to deny the charges.
“In the documents that I have become acquainted with, there is no mention of Shaltai-Boltai,” he said.
Alexander said the arrested FSB men could theoretically be those he believes Anikeyev met last May. “He could have known the FSB people, but I can’t believe they were arrested just for this. It sounds like part of a bigger story,” he said.
As for his own role in the project, Alexander admitted that what started as a political project became increasingly mercenary.
“Especially in the last year, it became all about money, and I regret that I was involved,” he said. “But it gave me some small influence on politics. Maybe, when they write the history of Russia, there will be a couple of lines about Shaltai-Boltai.”
Alec Luhn contributed reporting from Moscow