Russian government admits agencies were hacked

The Russian government has announced that 20 different bodies within Russia, many of them government agencies, have been found with espionage malware lurking in their networks

Russian state agencies were infected with cyber-espionage malware (Meghas via Wikimedia Commons)
Russian state agencies were infected with cyber-espionage malware (Meghas via Wikimedia Commons)

The Russian government has been hacked, according to the state security agency, the FSB.

Malware was discovered on the systems of 20 organisations within Russia including several state agencies. Defence companies, scientific and military institutions and  “critical infrastructures” were also compromised.

The FSB called it a cyber-spying virus and described the operation as “professionally planned and executed”.  The virus has apparently been seen before in other cyber-espionage campaigns.

In a predictable pattern, it was delivered via a malicious email attachment. It also came with all of the features one might expect of espionage malware including the ability to grab screenshots, log keys, turn on webcams and microphones and intercept network traffic.

A source told TASS, a Russian state-run news outlet, "The newest sets of the said software are made individually for every ‘victim,' on the basis of unique features of attacked machines.”

The FSB is reportedly still identifying the full extent of the infection and working to mitigate its effects.

“In a word, unsurprising”, Ewan Lawson, an expert in cyber-warfare and fellow at the Royal United Services Institute told SCMagazineUK.com.

He added, in the great game, this is par for the course: “There is  little doubt that western agencies, the Chinese and others will wish to access Russian data for intelligence purposes.”

However, he observed that the disclosure was “vague” and without more detail, “this looks a little unfocused and lacking in tradecraft to be a serious espionage effort so could be one of the hacktivist groups.”

This news comes just after the fruits of a high-profile breach on the US Democratic National Committee have laid the US Democratic party and its presidential candidate low.  The scandal emanating from the leak of emails hinting at improper behaviour in the party's presidential nominations process has only been eclipsed by the widespread suspicion that the Russian government had a hand in the leak.

Lawson thinks the timing of this disclosure may be noteworthy: “It is also interesting to speculate as to the timing of the announcement as it provides what might be considered a useful balance to the constant criticism of Russia by portraying them as fellow victims.”

The Kremlin has done its best to head off the accusations that it attempted to meddle in the elections of not just a sovereign state, but the world's only surviving superpower. Just today, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, called the Clinton campaign's accusations ‘absurd' and emotional.

Peskov told the press, "Such pronouncements by Mrs Clinton are of the pre-election rhetoric genre and do not contain anything tangible." He added that American accusers are “trying to camouflage some of their shenanigans by demonising Russia”.

He concluded, “Russian government agencies are not, have not and will never be involved in cyber-terrorism."
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