Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter Thursday that his Tesla Nevada factory was the target of an alleged attempted cyberattack by a Russian national in recent weeks. 

A Russian man was arrested and accused of trying to recruit an employee of a Nevada company to put malware on the company’s computer network, extract data and extort ransom money from the company, federal officials announced this week. However, the targeted company had not been identified in court documents filed Sunday.

The FBI’s criminal investigation details multiple meetings between the Russian and company employee in the Reno area in recent weeks. 

Following a report by Teslarati.com Thursday — detailing how a Tesla employee reportedly turned down $1 million to work with the FBI and help thwart the alleged malware attack — Elon Musk tweeted “Much appreciated. This was a serious attack.” 

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Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, appeared in federal court in Los Angeles Monday and has been charged with one count of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer, according to U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich of the District of Nevada and FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron C. Rouse.

A court complaint filed by the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office Sunday details the allegations against Kriuchkov. 

On July 16, Kriuchkov contacted an employee of a Nevada company, later identified by Musk as Tesla, after getting the phone number through a mutual acquaintance, and said he would be traveling through the area and would like to meet up. 

Kriuchkov flew into New York July 28 using his Russian passport and a tourist visa, which was issued in October 2019. Two days later, he flew from New York to San Francisco, according to the court complaint.

On July 31, he drove a rental car to Nevada and checked into a Sparks hotel on Nichols Boulevard. 

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He then visited with the unnamed company employee at his home several times, and they also toured the area, including South Lake Tahoe and Emerald Pools, according to the complaint.

During these trips, Kriuchkov declined to be in any photos but offered to pay for the excursions, claiming he won money gambling, the employee told federal agents. The FBI recruited the employee as a confidential informant after the employee reported Kriuchkov’s proposed activity to his company’s security office. 

After coming back from Lake Tahoe, Kriuchkov told the company employee he would like to meet with him alone so they could discuss “business,” and they met up at a Reno restaurant that night. The pair then went to a nearby bar and drank heavily with Kriuchkov paying, the complaint details. 

Kriuchkov reportedly then told the man that he worked for a “group” that does “special projects,” paying employees of companies to introduce malware, which would attack the computer system in two ways. First, it would appear to be an external attack that would get the attention of company security, hiding the second attack which extracts data. The “group” then would threaten the company to make data public if a large ransom isn’t paid, according to the complaint. 

Kriuchkov allegedly said the “group” would eventually pay the employee $1 million to introduce the malware, to be delivered in cash or Bitcoin.

Kriuchkov met up with the employee multiple times in August, including at a Reno gas station parking lot and a Reno restaurant, as the FBI conducted surveillance of the meetings. 

Kriuchkov gave the employee a burner phone as well as instructions on how to use it to help facilitate the Bitcoin transfer, according to the complaint. 

After being contacted by the FBI, Kriuchkov drove overnight from Reno to Los Angeles and asked an acquaintance to buy him an airline ticket to leave the country.

He was arrested in Los Angeles on Aug. 22 and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alexander F. MacKinnon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, who ordered Kriuchkov detained pending trial.

Kriuchkov faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

“As Nevada’s economy diversifies and evolves into a center for technological innovation, our office will continue to prioritize protecting trade secrets and other confidential information belonging to U.S. businesses,” said Trutanich in a prepared statement. “Working with our law enforcement partners, we are committed to holding accountable anyone who plots to use malicious cyber tactics to harm American consumers and companies.”

The investigation was led by the FBI’s Las Vegas Field Office with assistance by the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office; the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office; the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office; and the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section.

“In this matter, the FBI was once again able to intervene before any damage could occur,” said Rouse in a prepared statement. “We will continue to aggressively pursue any person or entity that attempts to inflict damage to American business or enterprise, no matter who or where.”

Chelcey Adami is the visuals and breaking news editor at the Reno Gazette Journal. She can be reached at [email protected] and 831-277-8763. To support local journalism like this, please subscribe.

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