Russian national pleads guilty in plot to steal Tesla’s company secrets for extortion

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Inside Tesla's Fremont assembly plant. - Russ Mitchell/Los Angeles Times/TNS

A Russian national admitted in federal court this week that he tried to recruit a Tesla employee to install a malicious software into the company’s computer network with the goal of extorting the electric car giant.

Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, repeatedly tried to persuade an employee at Tesla’s electric battery plant in Nevada to participate in the hacking scheme, offering to pay the worker $1 million in Bitcoin to transmit the malware, federal authorities said. Once the software was installed, Kriuchkov and his co-conspirators would use it to steal data from the Tesla’s network and then extort the company by threatening to disclose the data, according to prosecutors.

But the unidentified employee eventually reported the plot to company officials, who then contacted the FBI. The agency thwarted the scheme and arrested Kriuchkov last summer.

“The swift response of the company and the FBI prevented a major exfiltration of the victim company’s data and stopped the extortion scheme at its inception,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid said in a statement. “This case highlights the importance of companies coming forward to law enforcement, and the positive results when they do so.”

Kriuchkov pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 10. He faces no more than 10 months in prison under the terms of his plea agreement, The Associated Press reported Friday.

His attempts to hack Tesla’s network happened between July 15 and Aug. 22 last year after he traveled from Russia to California. He then visited Nevada multiple times during that period and met with the employee at least once, according to prosecutors.

Kriuchkov was arrested in late August while heading to an airport to flee the country.

“This case highlights our office’s commitment to protecting trade secrets and other confidential information belonging to U.S. businesses — which is becoming even more important each day as Nevada evolves into a center for technological innovation,” Nevada’s Acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou said in a statement. “Along with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to prioritize stopping cybercriminals from harming American companies and consumers.”