One of the alleged perpetrators involved in the massive Yahoo hack that compromised as many as 500 million user accounts purported to be a luxury car aficionado and claimed to have made his first million at the tender age of 15.
According to a federal indictment, 22-year-old Karim Baratov — a Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan — was used by Russian intelligence officers to gain “access to individual user accounts at Google and other providers (but not Yahoo)” and paid a bounty for providing them with the account passwords. The information was then allegedly used to hack into the email accounts of various political and business leaders in Russia and the United States.
Baratov was arrested in Hamilton, Ontario on Tuesday, the same day U.S. officials indicted two Russian spies and Alexsay Belan, a notorious cybercriminal, who has been wanted for more than four years, and has been arrested before.
But Baratov didn’t have the same kind of public profile.
According to what appears to be his Facebook page, Baratov lives in Ancaster, Ontario — about a 10-minute drive from Hamilton — and is from Moscow. The photo of him provided in the indictment document appears to match those on his Facebook page. His profile image features him leaning against a black Mercedes and an Aston Martin. “Darth Vader & Storm Trooper combo,” he wrote in one caption. Other social media accounts appearing to belong to him show similar images.
Catherine Zackel, a spokesperson for the FBI, told VICE News in a phone call that the department would not be commenting on personal social media accounts. She added that the Toronto Police and the RCMP were responsible for carrying out the arrest. “I believe there will be an extradition proceeding,” she said.
Baratov’s name, and an address in Ancaster, Ontario, are listed on the registration of seven different websites, set-up between 2013 and 2015. Most of those sites appear to be spear phishing pages, similar to those described in the FBI indictment, designed to trick unwitting users to enter the login information to their email account.
One account, offering cybersecurity services, is linked to from Baratov’s social media profiles.
One of the sites registered by Baratov in 2014, offers an email hacking service. A translation of the Russian-language site shows that it offers the ability to get back an email account that was taken over by hackers, to “check a loved one,” or to spy on a corporate associate who may be engaging in corporate espionage. “Through hacking, you can find e-mail, what they do on the job your employees,” the site reads.
The site offers hacking services for $90, and training for $220.
Those low-margin services likely don’t explain Baratov’s apparent wealth.
Facebook photos of expensive cars and posts bragging about how much money he’s earned suggests a preoccupation with a luxurious lifestyle — and he wasn’t shy about linking that success to vague “online projects.”
In one particularly detailed post from February 14, Baratov writes that he was suspended from school four years ago for “threatening to kill my ex-friend as a joke.”
“[B]ut time off school allowed me to work on my online projects 24/7, and really move my businesses to the next level. I was well off in high school to be able to afford driving a BMW 7 series and pay off a mortgage on my first house; however, all the extra free time allowed me to make triple and even quadruple the normal amount,” he wrote. “By the time my suspension was done, I changed my whole life plan! I didn’t wanna do post secondary anymore!”
At the end of his post he writes: “My advise to you is give yourself permission to get the most out of your life. Taking shortcuts doesn’t mean shortcutting the end result”
In another post, Baratov makes the astounding claim: “At 15 I got my first million.”
None of Baratov’s claims have been independently verified by VICE News.
“Karim is one of my best friends,” said Dillon Kovljenic in a Facebook message to VICE News, describing Baratov as extremely intelligent,. “I know he knows a lot about computers.”
Kovljenic did not respond to any other questions.
A spokesperson for Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, would not confirm Baratov’s identity or details of the arrest, saying only that “the RCMP assisted the FBI in its investigation.”
Mark Pugash, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police told the Canadian Press that “this was a very large operation” and that the force was involved because of its well-respected fugitive squad. “Our job was that final part of it, which was to locate and arrest him.”
In a press conference Wednesday, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord declared that the U.S. government would “not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies, or the security of our country.”