Russia FSB
The FSB reportedly worked alongside the Shaltay Boltay hacking group at one time Reuters

In a secretive hearing at Moscow's City Court this week (6 July 2017), the so-called ringleader of a hacking group dubbed Shaltai Boltai – or Humpty Dumpty - was sentenced to two years in a penal colony for six counts of "illicit tampering" of government officials' personal data.

Vladimir Anikeyev was formally accused of hacking into the email accounts of a spokeswoman for Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, state news TV presenter and spin doctor Dmitry Kiselyov, a presidential aide to Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Kremlin figures.

The Shaltai Boltai hackers became notorious in Russia after publishing the emails of government officials and businessmen with links to the Kremlin.

The group, which came to prominence in 2015, turned to blackmail and extortion to make more money, it was claimed. Ultimately, the move proved to be its downfall as it attracted the attention of the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Far from being disbanded, however, the team was allegedly forced to collaborate with Russian intelligence in exchange for a degree of protection.

That account came from Alexander Glazastikov, a one-time member of Shaltai Boltai who went on the run earlier this year and applied for asylum in Estonia. He claimed his hacking unit became linked to the FSB after it "crossed a red line" by targeting the Kremlin. Officials reportedly asked for a "veto" right on future leaks.

Glazastikov spoke out after Anikeyev was lured to Russia from Ukraine by the authorities and arrested. The news of Anikeyev's detention came at the same time as two FSB officers - Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchaev – were apprehended and accused of treason.

In the murky scenario that emerged, Ruslan Stoyanov, a top investigator at security firm Kaspersky Lab, was also placed under custody and accused of being a traitor. Unverified Russian media reports suggested the two FSB officers may have been Mr Anikeyev's handlers.

This week, state prosecutors in the secretive hearing were asking for Anikeyev to be sentenced to two and a half years in jail for his crimes. The court ruled, however, that he should be granted time served after spending nearly eight months in pre-trial detention.

According to the Tass state news agency, Anikeyev and two alleged accomplices - Alexander Filinov and Konstantin Teplyakov - were arrested back in November 2016 but Anikeyev eventually agreed to work with authorities and later testified against the other suspected hackers.

"My client is satisfied with the verdict" said Anikeyev's attorney Ruslan Koblev, adding that he now plans to file for early release. "Under the law, we can do this in two days," he stated.