Here Are Some Of The Major Hacks The U.S. Blamed On Russia In The Last Year

Topline

A Russian criminal group is probably responsible for a disruptive new cyberattack on the world’s largest meat processing company, the White House claimed Tuesday, the latest in a string of hacks blamed on either the Russian government or lone criminals based in the country.

Timeline

May 2021Meat processor JBS revealed Monday its IT systems were hacked, in what White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre characterized as a ransomware attack — a strategy in which hackers demand payment — likely perpetrated by Russian criminals.

May 2021A group ostensibly tied to Russia’s intelligence service gained access to the U.S. Agency for International Development’s email system and tried to send virus-laden phishing emails to hundreds of USAID-linked organizations, Microsoft said Thursday.

May 2021A pipeline carrying 45% of the East Coast’s gasoline was shut down due to an attack blamed on hacking collective DarkSide, prompting Colonial Pipeline to pay out $4.4 million in ransom, but although the perpetrators appear to be based in Russia, President Joe Biden said there’s no evidence the Russian government is connected.

October 2020Russian government-sponsored hackers appeared to target multiple state and local government networks, successfully stealing data from two unnamed targets, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said.

July 2020A group “almost certainly” linked to Russia’s intelligence service tried to steal information from Covid-19 vaccine researchers in multiple countries, the U.S., U.K. and Canadian governments said in an advisory.

Contra

The Russian government has consistently denied any involvement in recent hacking campaigns, telling Forbes in a December statement these attacks run counter to “the principals of the Russian foreign policy, national interests and our understanding of interstate relations.” The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

Key Background

Even though some recent cyberattacks have been blamed on Russian criminal gangs rather than government actors, some cybersecurity experts and government officials think Russian authorities quietly tolerate these private hackers. Dr. Susan Landau, a cybersecurity professor at Tufts University’s School of Engineering and Fletcher School, thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin likely allows criminal hacking gangs to operate in his country — and sometimes implicitly collaborates with them — because it “fits with his foreign policy objectives, and it doesn’t cost him anything.” Cyberattacks on corporate targets can assert Russia’s power globally and create insecurity in the United States, and most recent hacks have been small enough to avoid drawing severe retaliation from the United States. Plus, by outsourcing this activity to criminals, the Russian government gains what Landau calls “implausible deniability.”

Crucial Quote

“I don’t think you get to [carry out cyberattacks] in China or Russia without the implicit permission of the government,” Landau said.

Tangent

For years, Russia has been accused of leading or otherwise endorsing brutal hacking campaigns. Russia was tied to an infamous hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email server in 2016, part of a wider apparent effort to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election. And Russian intelligence officers were accused last year of orchestrating a massive 2017 cyberattack that caused billions of dollars in damage to businesses worldwide. While countries have conducted cyber-espionage on each other for years, Landau says Russia’s interest in sophisticated offensive attacks seemed to begin in 2015, when hackers linked to Russia managed to shut down parts of Ukraine’s power grid.

Surprising Fact

Russia didn’t appear to target election systems last year, the U.S. intelligence community said in a March report, though the country was accused of trying to spread misleading information denigrating Biden and backing former President Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

What To Watch For

Cyberattacks have caused friction between the American and Russian governments. The Biden administration imposed sanctions on several Russian tech companies in April after the SolarWinds hack, and the Department of Justice charged Russian intelligence officers last year with a string of severe international cyberattacks. Despite this tension, Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Switzerland for a summit later this month.

Read The Full Story