Extradited Russian pleads not guilty to massive LinkedIn breach

The Russian hacker who allegedly stole data from LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring pleaded not guilty in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco on Friday after his extradition from the Czech Republic.

Yevgeniy Nikulin, 29, was the subject of a lengthy extradition battle between the U.S. and Russia, who both lobbied the Czech government to extradite the Russian citizen to their respective countries for criminal proceedings. Shortly after Nikulin was arrested and charged in 2016 with crimes that impacted over 100 million individuals, Russia followed with charges for stealing $3,450 via Webmoney in 2009.

Beginning with his 2016 indictment, a tug-of-war commenced involving Washington D.C., Moscow, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Czech President Milos Zeman. Babis pushed for a U.S. extradition while Zeman reportedly pushed for an outcome that favored Russia’s interests. The outcome may have reverberations in domestic Czech politics — Zeman and Babis are trying to form a new government — and the trial is one of several ongoing international U.S.-Russia fights tied to cybersecurity.

Nikulin is charged with three counts of computer intrusion, two counts of intentional transmission of information, code, or command causing damage to a protected computer; two counts of aggravated identity theft; trafficking in unauthorized access devices and conspiracy.

Nikulin denied committing the crimes.

“Computer hacking is not just a crime, it is a direct threat to the security and privacy of Americans,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a release. “In this case, the defendant, a Russian national, is accused of breaking into the computer system of several important American companies using stolen identities, and potentially gaining access to the personal information of millions of Americans. This is deeply troubling behavior once again emanating from Russia. We will not tolerate criminal cyber-attacks and will make it a priority to investigate and prosecute these crimes, regardless of the country where they originate.

“The FBI will not allow international cyber criminals to operate with impunity,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. “Nikulin allegedly targeted three Bay Area companies through cyberattacks, and will now face prosecution in the United States.  This extradition is a success for U.S. law enforcement and our partners overseas.”

Federal prosecutors sought detention for the suspect on the grounds that he is an “extreme flight risk.” Nikulin was assigned a public defender during the hearing and was accompanied in court by a Russian language interpreter.

The suspect was flown from the Czech Republic to the U.S. on Thursday, so his public defender had very little time to speak to her client before Friday’s arraignment.

The two will reconvene in the coming hours to discuss the case in depth for the first time.

Nikulin will be medically evaluated before pre-trial interviews commence.

Judge Corley scheduled Nikulin’s next appearance for status on April 2, 2018, and scheduled a detention hearing for April 4, 2018.