Russia influences hackers but fails to rule them, report says

WASHINGTON – Moscow intelligence services have influence over Russian criminal ransomware groups and a broad overview of their activitie...


WASHINGTON – Moscow intelligence services have influence over Russian criminal ransomware groups and a broad overview of their activities, but they do not control the organizations’ targets, according to a report published on Thursday.

Some US officials have said there has been a lull, at least for now, in major ransomware attacks against high-profile US critical infrastructure that have been blamed on Russian criminal groups – a pause that reflects the ability of Moscow to partly control the criminal networks operating in the country. .

But a ransomware group that vanished after attacks over the summer, REvil, appears to have returned to the dark web this week and reactivated a portal used by victims to make payments.

As attacks have subsided, “it’s a safe bet” that criminal networks are looking for signals from the Russian government on how they can re-launch their attacks, said Chris Inglis, the national cyber director.

“What I think will make the difference is whether Vladimir Putin and others who have the capacity to apply the law, international law, will ensure that they do not come back,” Mr. Inglis Thursday. at an event organized by the Reagan Institute. “But it’s too early to say we’ve come out of the woods on this.”

The report, from cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, corroborates assessments by U.S. officials who said Russia does not directly tell groups what to do, but is aware of their activities and exerts influence. Russian intelligence agencies both recruit talent from groups and can set limits on their activities, some US officials have said.

Russian intelligence officials have long-standing ties to criminal groups, according to the report. “In some cases, it is almost certain that the intelligence services have an established and systematic relationship with the actors of the criminal threat,” he said.

These last months, Recorded Future also published interviews with russian hackers involved in ransomware attacks against the United States.

The Russian government’s relationship with hackers is different from that of other warring powers, such as China or North Korea.

Justice ministry officials accused the Chinese government of exercising control over some of the criminal hacking gangs operating on its territory by requiring it to carry out missions. In return, Chinese intelligence is giving criminal groups leeway to attack American companies.

China’s control over its hackers is similar to the kind of strict restrictions it places on society, businesses, and its propaganda efforts.

But the Russian government has a different approach. Moscow allows oligarchs and criminal groups to follow their own plans, as long as they don’t challenge the Kremlin and generally work towards President Vladimir V. Putin’s goals, according to US government officials.

As a result, Russian control of hackers is often looser, giving Mr. Putin and other Russian officials a degree of denial. But the risk is that criminal groups will go too far, prompting a strong response from the United States, US officials have said. Mr. Putin’s preferred strategy is to allow hacks that cause problems in the United States, without however triggering an international crisis.

“The guys in the government don’t point out who to hack, but over a long period of time there’s a really interesting connective tissue between government and criminal networks,” said Christopher Ahlberg, CEO of Recorded Future.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency known as FSB, has cultivated ransomware hackers, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard W. Downing told Senate hearing in July.

“As we know, Russia has long ignored cybercrime within its borders as long as criminals victimize non-Russians,” he added. Mr. Downing said.

The Russian government offers hackers a measure of protection and, in return, it sometimes calls on their expertise – and some of the money ransomware groups make goes to those responsible, Ahlberg said.

Experts from Recorded Future and U.S. government officials have argued that pressure by the Biden administration on Russia to control the criminal groups that attacked a major U.S. energy supplier, Colonial Pipeline, and other companies have at least put Mr. Putin on the defensive.

But Ahlberg said the lure of big returns from ransomware attacks may be too hard to ignore in the long run.

DarkSide, the Russian hacking group whose ruptured colonial pipeline led to gasoline shortages on the east coast, disbanded soon after, under pressure from US and Russian officials. Experts at Recorded Future believe the band members are getting active again.

“Once you’ve made $ 500 million and it’s easy enough to do it, you’re going to keep doing it,” Ahlberg said.

The report concludes that the long-standing relationship between hackers and Russian intelligence services is unlikely to weaken.

“The current Russian government is not likely to crack down on cybercrime in the near future beyond taking limited action to appease international demands,” the report revealed.

Russian intelligence began recruiting skilled computer programmers almost 30 years ago. After being arrested on suspicion of hacking-related crimes, some claimed to have been approached by people with intelligence ties, a practice that has continued in recent years, according to the report.

But in addition to this coercive recruitment, some hackers voluntarily seek to support Russian strategic objectives.

Among the most important is Dmitry Dokuchaev, according to the report. He is a former major of the FSB, successor to the KGB and the main security and intelligence agency in Russia.

A criminal hacker specializing in stolen credit cards, he was hired by the FSB at least in 2010 and worked with them until 2016, according to US law enforcement.

In 2017, US prosecutors accused Dokuchaev of directing and paying for hackers. He and others have been accused of access some 500 million Yahoo accounts both for espionage and personal gain.

Mr. Dokuchaev was suspected in Moscow as well, and he was eventually arrested, charged with being a US double agent. Mr. Dokuchaev was published jail in May after serving just over four years of a six-year sentence.

With the exception of a few lawsuits against people who have targeted Russian entities, Moscow has done little to disrupt hackers, according to the Recorded Future report.

“The Kremlin’s low-key response to cybercrime activity originating in Russia has fostered an environment in which cybercriminal organizations are well-organized businesses,” the report revealed.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed to reporting from Moscow.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russia influences hackers but fails to rule them, report says
Russia influences hackers but fails to rule them, report says
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