An employee of Russia’s Internet giant Yandex, Dmitry Korobov, stole the source code of its search engine and tried to sell it on the black market to fund his own startup, according to a report by the Russian newspaper Kommersant. A Russian court has found Korobov guilty and handed down a suspended sentence of two years in jail.
The Kommersant investigation revealed that Korobov downloaded a piece of software codenamed Arcadia from Yandex’s servers, which contained the source code and algorithms of the company’s search engine. Later on, he tried to sell it to an electronics retailer called NIX, where a friend of his allegedly worked. Korobov also trawled the darknet in search of potential buyers.
Korobov put a surprisingly low price on the code and algorithms, asking for just $25,000 and 250,000 Russian rubles, or about £19,000 in total. There’s no information on Korobov’s position within the company, but it appears that he wasn’t aware that the data he had in his possession could be worth much more.
According to local industry experts, it’s not likely that Yandex’s direct rivals like Google or Rambler, another Russian Internet company, would be interested in the source code.
“The market is small, and it would’ve been easy to single out the thief,” said Aleksey Lukatskiy, an Internet security analyst at Cisco. The algorithms, however, could’ve been used for advanced search engine optimisation purposes.
Kommersant‘s sources said that Yandex estimated the value of the code and algorithms at “billions of rubles,” or north of £10 million. At court, a Yandex representative said that the software in question “is a key part of our company, it was related directly to Yandex’s search engine, which is the main source of the company’s income.”
“Our management took this incident very seriously,” she added.
Another source told Kommersant that Korobov planned to use the money to launch a startup of his own. Looking for a buyer, he went to darknet hacker forums and attracted the attention of Russia’s Federal Security Service. Korobov was arrested when he came to a meeting with a potential buyer.
Yandex is the most popular search engine in Russia, where its market share in November reached 57.2 percent, compared to Google’s 35.2 percent. Over the past few years the company has been trying to expand to the Turkish search market, where it had a 7 percent share as of October.
Correction: The story was updated to correct a currency conversion error. The original story had a total amount asked by Korobov at £27,000, but actually it’s just £19,000.