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The Daily Vertical: Cybercriminals And Patriotic Hackers (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

In Vladimir Putin's Russia, hackers can be patriotic heroes or hackers can be criminals.

It just depends, of course, on whom they are hacking.

A Moscow court yesterday sentenced two members of the Russian hacking collective Shaltai-Boltai to three years in prison for breaking into the e-mail accounts of top Russian officials and leaking the contents.

Funny thing is, that's pretty similar to what two other Russian hacking groups, Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, have been doing in recent years.

The difference, of course, is that Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear are connected to the Russian security services and they were hacking American and other Western officials' accounts and leaking the contents.

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When confronted with allegations of Russian cyberattacks against Western countries, Putin has said it was "theoretically possible" that "patriotic" hackers were involved.

Putin has also said it isn't the hacking of Western officials that is important, but the information that was revealed as a result of the hacking.

It's a pretty safe assumption that we won't see any prosecutions in Russia over the hacking of the U.S. Democratic National Committee, or the U.S. State Department, or the German Bundestag, or Poland's Stock Market.

But this double standard, while obvious, is also revealing.

Because one of the ways the Russian security services recruit hackers to work for them is to prosecute talented members of the cyberunderworld, or threaten to prosecute them, and then make them an offer they can't refuse.

And in this way, today's cybercriminal can become tomorrow's patriotic hacker.

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