Russia’s hackers long tied to military, secret services

Vastavam web: During the Soviet era, the country’s top computer scientists and programmers largely worked for the secret services. That practice appears to have resumed under President Vladimir Putin, as Russia faces accusations of waging a global campaign of cyber attacks. Dutch officials on Thursday accused four Russians from the GRU military intelligence agency of attempting to hack into the global chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague. The Baltic states were the first to accuse Moscow of mounting attacks to knock out their sites back in 2007.

Estonia said one such attack had put the country’s main emergency service phone number out of action for over an hour. Since then, accusations of cyber attacks have continued against Moscow. The Russian hacker group variously known as Fancy Bear, APT 28 and Sofacy has been linked to GRU and accused of attacks on the US Democrats’ 2016 presidential campaign, together with Russia’s FSB security service, the successor to the KGB. “All the achievements of Soviet science including the first computers went to serve the military sector.” The most brilliant students were pushed to work in the military and space sector, he added.

After the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, its armed forces were broken up and most of the top specialists turned to the nascent banking sector in Russia, either to work there or to attack it. In this era saw the first cyber attacks on banking operations and the first mentions of Russian hackers. In 2016, Russian cybersecurity giant Kaspersky estimated that between 2012 and 2015, Russian hackers had stolen at least 790 million worldwide.

Russian computer scientists study at “very strong universities in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Kazan or Krasnoyarsk”, said Denis Kuskov of TelecomDaily specialised research agency. They “can work anywhere in the world, in any international company,” he added. For Demidov, the growing wave of attacks attributed to Russian hackers has come about as Russia becomes better able to defend its own cyber security more strongly, the military sphere included.

“These efforts have began to bring results,” he said. Today however, even the most established players in Russian IT are in the sights of the West. The US in 2017 imposed a ban on the use of Kaspersky’s anti-virus software by federal agencies amid concerns about the company’s links to the Russian intelligence services.