After Extradition Fight, Russian Pleads Not Guilty to Hacks

SAN FRANCSICO (CN) – A Russian man accused of hacking into the computer networks of major U.S. technology firms pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday morning after a months-long extradition battle with Russia.

Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikulin was charged in October 2016 with illegally accessing computers belonging to LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, damaging employees’ computers, and using the employees’ credentials for intrusions.

The 30-year-old Moscow native was arrested in the Czech Republic on Oct. 5, 2016, after Interpol issued a red notice, or international warrant, for his arrest.

The arrest was followed by a months-long extradition battle between Washington and Moscow. The Russian government fought to extradite Nikulin to Russia on charges of stealing $3,450 through a website called WebMoney in 2009.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thanked the Czech Republic for cooperating with the U.S. government’s extradition request.

“Computer hacking is not just a crime, it is a direct threat to the security and privacy of Americans,” Sessions said in a statement Friday. “This is deeply troubling behavior once again emanating from Russia. We will not tolerate criminal cyber-attacks and will make it a priority to investigate and prosecute these crimes, regardless of the country where they originate.”

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced new U.S. sanctions on two dozen Russian entities and individuals for interfering in the 2016 election. The announcement came after the U.S. accused Russia of hacking into networks that control the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure.

Nikulin faces three counts of computer intrusion, two counts of transmitting code to damage a computer, two counts of identity theft, one count of trafficking in unauthorized access devices, and one count of conspiracy.

If convicted, Nikulin could spend more than 30 years in prison and pay more than $1 million in fines.

“Hackers cause millions of dollars of damage to computer systems and victimize innocent users,” said Alex Tse, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, in a statement Friday. “We will use the considerable means at our disposal to find, capture, and bring to justice computer hackers who commit crimes against U.S. computer systems and the people who use and rely on those systems, regardless of where those hackers commence their attacks.”

Nikulin entered his plea in U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley’s courtroom in San Francisco Friday morning.

He is due back court April 2 for a status conference and April 4 for a detention hearing.

 

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