Unverified report claims Russia tried to recruit U.S. tech entrepreneur

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in the Moscow’s Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 9.
Image: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

An unverified report published by BuzzFeed alleges that Russian intelligence offered to invest in a U.S. tech entrepreneur’s business, in exchange for access that would let them launch cyberattacks.

The claims in the unverified dossier have been denied by the Trump campaign, the president-elect, and Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen (who’s named in the report as an alleged collaborator of the Russians). CNNwhich had the report but didn’t publish itis saying that it was prepared by a former British intelligence agent, funded by “anti-Trump Republicans” and Democrats. The dossier has reportedly circulated among government officials and journalists for weeks prior to CNN’s news break on it, and Buzzfeed’s publication of it.

According to Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, BuzzFeed published the entire dossier on Tuesday “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

The report alleges that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) approached an American citizen “of Russian ethnicity” and “offered to provide seed capital to this person in return for them being able to access and modify his IP, with a view to targeting priority foreign targets by planting a Trojan virus in the software. The U.S. visitor was told this was common practice.”

In the next line, the report adds that the Russian security service “had implied significant operational success as a result of installing cheap Russian IT games containing their own malware unwittingly by targets on their PCs and other platforms.”

A Trojan horse is a program that sneaks its way into a computer by pretending to be benign. Once there, it implants whatever virus the hacker has uploaded.

The report doesn’t name the entrepreneur, nor the company the person leads, though it does imply that this incident wasn’t the only time Russian officials tried this tactic.

Russian hacking’s been a central through-line of the 2016 presidential campaign. American intel officials accused the Russian government of directing a hacking campaign against the Democratic National Committee, as well as the Hillary Clinton campaign. Though completely unverified, the allegations contained in Buzzfeed’s report are of a historic proportionunlike any seen this close to the inauguration of an American president-elect.

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