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Russia’s Role in Cyber Spying, Hacking

Kaspersky Lab expert Kurt Baumgartner discusses cybercrime and espionage in Russia, explaining that many threats that have Russian coding may not necessarily come from Russia. He says that source attribution is practically impossible since cybercriminals are known to use techniques to keep themselves hidden. Eugene Kaspersky even says, “Viruses unfortunately don’t carry ID cards.” So while many may point the finger at Russia to be the source of certain cyber attacks, it’s extremely difficult to know for sure.

In October, computer networks at the White House were breached by an outside group, causing disruptions throughout the entire system.  White House officials were quick to point out that the hacked systems did not contain classified information, and moved swiftly to plug the security holes. Still, the White House computer systems are among the most highly fortified in the world. So who was behind the successful and brazen attack?

The White House blames hackers tied to Moscow. And, coming on the heels of other reports of alleged Russian cyber-attacks targeting the governments of Germany, Ukraine among others, and military resources at NATO headquarters, the White House hack is raising alarm that one of the most serious threats to online security may not be coming from China, but from Russia.

From what we understand the Russians are a lot more sophisticated in terms of state-sponsored attacks than the Chinese. Which seems to be of some concern because often various traditional mechanisms used for stopping these types of attacks are rendered useless.

Russia was one of the first nations to move assertively into the digital sphere. In what is widely considered the first nationally coordinated cyber-attack against another nation, Russian hackers in 2007 launched waves of massive cyber attacks against Estonia, effectively crippling the nation. One year later, a similar operation targeting Georgia was launched from Russian ISPs.

Analysts say Russia’s moves are getting far less notice than China’s cyber exploits. Threat from China is overinflated, (and) the threat from Russia is underestimated and Russia certainly has been more active than any other country in terms of combining cyber-attacks, or cyber-operations, with physical operations. The Russia-Georgia war of 2008 was a perfect example of a combined kinetic and cyber operation– China has never done anything like that.

US Keeping an Eye on Russia

Kaspersky’s Baumgartner point to what he calls a “learning effect” – that more advanced hackers tied back to Russia are apparently learning from each other, increasing the overall effectiveness of the attacks. However, he said that this learning effect does not definitively prove Moscow’s involvement.

Russian officials have routinely denied any involvement in hacks that have been traced back to Russian ISPs.

Unfortunately viruses  don’t carry ID cards, Kaspersky was referring to the now-standard practice used even by amateur hackers to spread malware or launch attacks through a series of ISPs in various countries, thwarting efforts to trace the attack back to the source.

Pace University’s Darren Hayes also notes that another tactic employed by Moscow has been to use non-governmental groups, such as the pro-Putin “Nashi” youth movement, to carry out cyber-attacks, giving the government plausible deniability for involvement.

It’s been long known that the Russian government isn’t afraid to use young hacker groups, not only for monetary uses but also for attacks related to political issues, when you use these younger hacking groups that aren’t employed by, but are connected to, the Russian government, then it gives them a way to distance themselves from these attacks and not be noted as the perpetrator.

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