One of the most prominent computer hacking cases in recent years reached a new chapter as Karim Baratov was sentenced to five years in prison and fined an amount equivalent to his remaining assets. Baratov, a Kazakhstan-born Canadian citizen, was sentenced for his role in the massive Yahoo credentials breach that exposed more than 1 billion records to criminals.
Karim Baratov, aka Kay, aka Karim Taloverov, aka Karim Akehmet Tokbergenov, pleaded guilty to nine charges stemming from the breaches. In addition, he admitted to attempting to hack at least 80 Web mail accounts on behalf of co-conspirators, and to hacking more than 11,000 webmail accounts in total from 2010 through March of 2017.
Baratov was one of four individuals charged in the case, the other three being Russian citizens including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The other three indicted co-conspirators are Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, and Alexsey Alexseyevich Belan, (aka Magg, one the FBI's most-wanted cybercriminals), all of whom are currently living in Russia.
Officials from the Department of Justice said in statements that the sentence reflects the serious nature of both the crimes and the way that the DoJ views nation-state sponsored criminal hacking. Baratov was a "hacker for hire" who became a resource of the FSB when it came to gathering credentials that could be used for further breaches.
In pre-sentencing motions, Baratov's lawyers had argued that his mercenary nature made him less culpable for his crime, because he didn't know that he was being hired by the FSB — he would hack an account for anyone. Baratov had claimed that most of his customers were individuals looking for information about the online habits of spouses or lovers, though Department of Justice prosecutors argued that the FSB's request for 80 sets of credentials made the claim less credible in this case.
Ultimately, Baratov was given a sentence that, while lengthy for a cybercrime, was less than the maximum possible under the law. The government had argued for a longer sentence on the grounds that nation-state hacking must be considered more serious than "average" criminal activity.