With mystery surrounding the recent arrests in Moscow of several high-level Russian cybersecurity figures, speculation mounted Friday that one of the men may have been an informant who provided crucial information to the United States about Russian meddling in the U.S. election campaign. The speculation came from two former employees of the National Security Agency, which intercepts, deciphers and analyzes the world’s electronic communications. News of the arrests filtered out in reports beginning Wednesday and it has shaken the insular world of cybersecurity, espionage and cybercrime. Among those arrested for suspected treason was Sergei Mikhailov, deputy chief of the cyber intelligence department of the FSB, Russia’s main security agency. The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said Mikhailov had been detained in December, and led away with a sack over his head from FSB headquarters in Moscow.
Also arrested were a second FSB officer, Maj. Dmitry Dokuchayev, according to REN-TV, and Ruslan Stoyanov, a cybersecurity manager of Kaspersky Lab, a well-known cybersecurity firm. Stoyanov was in charge of the firm’s computer incidents investigations team. The company said Stoyanov was under investigation for activities before he was hired in 2012.
Dave Aitel, a former NSA research scientist who founded Immunity Inc., a firm based in Miami Beach that offers offensive measures for cybersecurity protection, said the Russian probe into the men likely had started long ago and its beginnings likely were unrelated to U.S. election hacking.
“When I talk to the guys over at Kaspersky and the Russians who are following this sort of thing, they point out very clearly that you don’t arrest a high-ranking FSB officer in, like, three days, the same way you wouldn’t arrest a high-ranking CIA officer in three days, no matter what evidence you have,” Aitel said.