July 26, 2023

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.

26 thoughts on “Russia Sends Cybersecurity CEO to Jail for 14 Years

  1. Aleksey Mikhaylov

    Sad day, wishing Ilya strength to go through this hell and come out alive. I don’t believe there was any substance to the charges. This was a mock trial – a staged ceremony needed for achieving the real goal – someone’s personal vendetta against Sachkov.

    1. Alex

      Maybe he was poking around state actors. Russia is not exactly well known for tolerance of different opinions. We can only imagine how they would react to if somebody uncovers something against the government.

  2. Truth

    People don’t be so gullible….no matter how much I respect Krebs, his analysis is based on information that cannot be verifiably confirmed through third party resources.. Krebs might be played via bogus intel fed to him…for all we know Illya could be CIA asset.

    1. Sputnik

      LOL why don’t you call him a visitor from another dimension? it sounds just as smart as your wacko thoughts.
      Maybe you don’t know the history of putin and cyber crime, and should catch up on the last 30 years.

    2. MightyMouse

      Awwww. How about proving your point since you seem to have your own set of “facts?”

  3. AJ North

    In the increasingly hyperpartisan climate of our politics, it is a pity that this information has not been covered, and widely disseminated, by mainstream news outlets (particularly as we head toward the truly existential 2024 elections).

    1. John Willkie

      This isn’t actually worthy of “MAINSTREAM media” coverage, and that editorial determination has nothing to do with US elections, past or future. You read about it (and commented about it) here; that’s media coverage aplenty. These repeated whines about lack of coverage by folks who are fully informed are riots. If “mainstream media” covered it, their viewers and readers and listeners would quickly become bored and find something more exciting to spend their time on.

    2. General FSB Vasya Pizdukov

      Sachkov says it was he who “drew the attention” of the FSB to Mikhailov’s crimes and acted as a witness during the trial.

      Few days later:

      He later wrote on his Telegram channel that if he is convicted, “it will be one of the most successful operations of the American intelligence agencies and another planned blow to the Russian IT sector.”


  4. jeff bunk

    Everyone who can read knows at least a little about the Russian interference with our elections. Never proven but surely advantageous to the previous administration with all the attention tRump’s bowing to Puitin in Helsinki has shown us. Among other obvious news articles..

      1. mealy

        It’s actually not. Nothing he said is unsupported.

        Russia doesn’t “like” Trump, Russia uses Trump ongoing.

  5. Judson Blake

    It is a pity the US government makes no attempt to exchange prisoners so that Iyla Sachkov and similar figures could be brought to the US. Here they might be very helpful.

    1. Igor Artimovich

      He’s not a US citizen. Why the US government should do it?

  6. Dennis

    Oh wow for sure you don’t want to be a part of the Kangaroo court system in Russia. What amazes me though are people that know how evil and backwards the current Russian system is and they still go there. Someone like Navalany or Karamurza, and now this guy.

  7. Igor Artimovich

    This news made my day. Sachkov was the best friend of Sergey Mikhailov. Friends will reunite. Maybe this will be the beginning of a big and pure love, who knows.

  8. Mahhn

    Something both Russia and the US Govs have in common – the people at the top are really methed up, and only think of themselves. It’s amazing anyone is still alive on this rock.
    On the bright side – the RU mafia gov started in prison, maybe the next gov will too, but be good people- since it’s the most common place to find them now.

  9. Sir Michael the just

    Hopefully Putin’s days are numbered and a sane individual will replace him freeing all of these “treasonous” citizens.

    1. Dzhugashvili

      People like you have been counting Putin’s days for a quarter of a century) Anyway, with or without Putin, Russia is a country that will bring the END to the rotten western world

      1. mealy

        Right after they bring the end to disinformation in Russian society.

  10. Kent Brockman

    Trying to understand why he wouldn’t have left Russia for his own safety after seeing what transpired with the others who were in the same position. Did he really believe he’d be exempt from persecution? Sad.

    1. Igor Artimovich

      Group-IB didn’t make any real product. It just laundered money received from the state. Sachkov’s mission was to blah blah blah about cybersecurity to be in the public eye. These skills were useful in Russia only.

  11. Vihaan

    What about America? Are there any of these prisoners? I think both America and Russia have sacrificed enough people. Before writing such content, take a look at your own country.

  12. ben

    hi brian. the first instance of ilyas name is misspelled in this piece as “iyla”.

    aside from that, great work as always!

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