Elon Musk Says Failed Russian Ransomware Attack on Tesla Was 'Serious'

Tesla owner Elon Musk has confirmed that the company was the target of a "serious" ransomware attack that was thwarted in a Federal Bureau of Investigation sting investigation in August.

The Justice Department published a legal complaint Thursday detailing an alleged attempt by Russian national Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 27, who tried to bribe a Tesla employee to install malware in the company's network. The software was ransomware, which is used to encrypt a user's files and hold them until a ransom is paid.

Kriuchkov allegedly offered to pay the unnamed Russian-speaking employee—who worked at the Tesla "Gigafactory" in Reno, Nevada—$1 million to install the malware. The employee instead notified Tesla, which contacted the FBI. Agents then ran a sting operation using the employee to catch Kriuchkov, who was arrested Tuesday.

Though the plot failed, Musk said Thursday: "This was a serious attack."

The employee met Kriuchkov with some Tesla colleagues between August 1 and August 3, which included a trip to Lake Tahoe along the California-Nevada border.

The Justice Department filings said Kriuchkov did not want to be included in any photos of the trip. At one point, he told the group he "would just remember the beauty of the sunset and did not need a photograph," according to the Justice Department, though did eventually "reluctantly" pose with them.

After the trip, Kriuchkov asked the employee to meet with him again to discuss "business." In the subsequent meeting, the Russian asked the employee to be part of his ransomware attack in exchange for $500,000, later to increase to $1 million. Kriuchkov offered to pay in either cash or Bitcoin.

The Justice Department said Kriuchkov was operating with the help of and on behalf of "associates," though did not say who was behind the plot. Kriuchkov and his team wished to extract corporate and network data and threaten to publish it online unless the ransom was paid.

The employee maintained contact with Kriuchkov at the FBI's direction, gathering information about the hackers' methods and capabilities. At one point, Kriuchkov claimed his team had extracted more than $4 million in ransom money from a company, which was later revealed to be Minneapolis-based CWT corporate travel firm.

Kriuchkov promised the employee an $11,000 advance for the plot at an August 19 meeting, to which the employee wore an FBI wire. On August 21,Kriuchkov told the employee that the plot had been delayed and any money transfers were on hold. The next day, he told the employee he was leaving the area and drove to Los Angeles.

The Justice Department said Kriuchkov was trying to return to Russia, but was arrested on August 22 in Los Angeles before he could do so.

Elon Musk, ransomware, attack, Russia, hackers, serious
Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX, speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images/Getty