Russian pleads guilty to Tesla ransomware plot

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California-based company Tesla makes electric carsImage source, Reuters
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California-based company Tesla makes electric cars

A Russian man in the US has pleaded guilty to plotting to extort money from the electric car company Tesla.

Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov is accused of offering an employee $1m (£721,000) to place ransomware in the computer network of the company's battery plant in Nevada.

He planned to use the ransomware to steal company secrets for extortion, prosecutors alleged.

The 27-year-old pleaded guilty on Thursday in Reno, Nevada.

Mr Kriuchkov acted on behalf of criminals abroad and tried to bribe a Tesla employee in person, prosecutors said.

Ransomware attacks companies or organisations by scrambling their internal computer networks, stealing information or locking users out. The attackers then demand large sums of money in return for ending the hack.

The FBI said the planned attack on Tesla was stopped before it could take place.

Mr Kriuchkov told a court in September that the Russian government was aware of the planned hack, but the FBI and lawyers have not alleged that there were ties to the Kremlin.

"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.

Mr Kruichokov was in the US for five weeks on a tourist visa in July and August last year when he tried to recruit the Tesla employee, according to court documents reported in US media.

He was quoted as saying that he and his co-conspirators would steal the data, and if Tesla refused to pay the ransom the company's secrets would be placed on the internet.

The US Department of Justice said that he took the employee out for drinks multiple times and gave him a phone. After the employee told Tesla about the plan, the company contacted the FBI who instructed the employee to record their conversations with Mr Kruichokov.

Mr Kruichokov faces up to ten months in prison after signing a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty, according to technology website The Record.

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