MOSCOW: Russia on Wednesday detained the head of one of the country’s leading cyber-security firms on the charges of treason, in a move that targets a company collaborating with the West on stemming cyber-attacks.
The arrest comes after US President Joe Biden earlier this year raised concerns with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow is allowing cybercrime directed at Western countries to flourish in the country.
Founded in 2003, the IB Group specialises in the detection and prevention of cyber-attacks and works with Interpol and several other global institutions.
Moscow’s Lefortovsky district court ordered the group’s 35-year-old co-founder and CEO Ilya Sachkov to be held in pre-trial custody for two months on treason charges, the court’s press service said.
It did not provide details of the charges.
Treason cases in Russia are typically classified, and the charges carry sentences of 12 to 20 years behind bars.
Group-IB said on Wednesday that its Moscow headquarters had been searched the previous morning.
“Top management and legal services are working to clarify the situation,” the group said in a statement.
In a separate statement, it said its “employees are confident in their manager’s innocence and honest business reputation”.
A source in Russia’s security services told the state-run TASS news agency that Sachkov denies collaborating with “intelligence agencies of foreign states”.
In addition to Moscow, the Group-IB has offices in Amsterdam, Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi, according to its website.
Sachkov co-founded Group-IB when he was just 17 and he was featured on the Forbes “30 under-30” list of tech entrepreneurs in 2016.
Three years later he received an “innovative breakthrough” award from President Vladimir Putin “for developments in the field of identifying and preventing cyberthreats”, according to the Kremlin’s website.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin did not have details about the case but was not worried about the potential of growing fears in the IT sector about cooperating with the foreign countries.
But Russia’s business ombudsman Boris Titov said that given Sachkov’s stature in the country’s IT industry “it is necessary for investigators to explain themselves”.
“Otherwise, the sector and its investment attractiveness will be dealt a critical blow,” he wrote on Facebook.
Cyber-security was one of the main topics on the agenda at Putin’s summit with Biden in June.
Biden’s administration in April slapped sanctions on Moscow over the SolarWinds cyber-attack that targeted federal organisations and more than 100 US companies.
Critics say Russia and its FSB domestic intelligence agency are doing little to collaborate with the Western probes into cybercrime.
“Any optimists left to believe the FSB is getting serious about international cooperation in cybercrime investigations?” intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov tweeted after Sachkov was detained.
Moscow in recent years has also faced numerous allegations of cyberattacks on the Western countries that resulted in sanctions and the expulsion of its diplomats.
Western countries, including the United States, have accused Russia of meddling in their elections, saying the interference was carried out by either Russian security services or Kremlin-linked hackers. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied these allegations.
At home, a growing number of Russians have been accused of high treason or disclosing state secrets.
In August, Russia arrested the head of a research institute, specialising in hypersonics technologies, weapons that deliver projectiles at super-fast speeds, on the charges of treason.
He was accused of passing “secret information” related to his research to a “foreign citizen”.
In another high-profile case, Ivan Safronov, a former journalist specialising in defence, was arrested in July 2020 and charged with treason.