The CIA is preparing to launch a cyber-attack against Russia, according to reports from NBC News.
It was reported that US intelligence officials said the attack was in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the upcoming presidential election.
Spies have reportedly been tasked with coming up with various options for “wide-ranging ‘clandestine' cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership.
The report says that groundwork has been laid for an attack with targets being selected as well as other preparations. Former intelligence officials said that the CIA had gathered documents that could expose unsavoury tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview on US television vice president Joe Biden said that "we're sending a message" to Putin and that "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact."
Retired admiral James Stavridis told NBC News that an attack should stifle Russia's ability to censor internal internet traffic and expose financial details for Putin and associates.
Authorisation for the attack will ultimately fall to President Obama but divisions persist on whether or not to proceed. Former CIA officers said there is a long history of the agency being asked to propose options for attack on Russia only for those plans to be abandoned.
Another former staffer said that in recent years the agency has been asked to come up with plans but none of these were particularly good or effective.
The cyber-operation is being prepared by the agency's Center for Cyber Intelligence, according to the report. This has hundreds of staff and a large budget but isn't as big as operations run by fellow agency NSA.
According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the CIA requested US$685 million (£563 million) for computer network operations in 2013, compared to US$1 billion (£822 million) by the NSA.
Leo Taddeo, chief security officer at Cryptzone, told SCMagazineUK.com that the Administration has been very careful to state that the response will be limited to attacks that "embarrass" or "harass" the Kremlin leadership.
“This appears to be a deliberate signal to Russia that the US will not raise the stakes by targeting critical infrastructure, such as networks supporting the energy and financial sectors. US cybersecurity professionals, however, should take little comfort in this. The President is entering unchartered territory, and the risk of a significant cyber-exchange between the US and Russia just got higher,” he said.
Richard Stiennon, chief strategy officer at Blancco Technology Group, and author of “There will be Cyber-war” told SC that state sponsored hacking has been on continuous burn since before the advent of the Internet.
“Russian interference with US elections is not “heating up” per se, as much as it's coming out of the shadows. Hacking the DNC and Democratic Congressional campaigns and then the leaking of stolen emails is somewhat ham-fisted, but it's an escalation of Russian disinformation campaigns. The probing of at least 23 election operations in various US states could lead to mistrust in election results if the election is close, think digital hanging chads,” he said.
The Guardian newspaper reports President Vladimir Putin of Russia saying, “For the first time the US has recognised that they themselves do it (cyber-attacks),” and described the allegations against Russia as mainly US election campaign rhetoric.