On Thursday, White House officials announced that the Russian government was to blame for a series of cyber attacks that targeted America’s power grid.
The “unprecedented and extraordinary” declaration, as one expert put it, is the first time the U.S. has so publicly accused Russia of hacking into America’s energy infrastructure, according to Reuters.
The attacks — which are believed to have started in March 2016 or earlier — involved high-profile Russian hackers attempting to invade numerous U.S. infrastructure sectors.
Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security reported Thursday in a security alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted several networks of small commercial facilities, with many of them being critical energy, nuclear, water and aviation facilities.
“(T)hey staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” the departments said, though the alert failed to name the specific facilities that were targeted.
The White House’s move to condemn Moscow is just one of several recent attempts to push back on Russian aggression, and the direct accusation coincides with the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision on Thursday to impose sanctions on multiple Russian citizens and groups.
The sanctions were imposed due to suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — as well as other malicious cyber attacks — involving 19 Russians and five different groups, including some of Moscow’s intelligence services.
Russia, however, quickly vowed to retaliate against the newly imposed sanctions from the White House, as it has fervently denied any attempt to hack into foreign countries’ infrastructures.
Still, lawmakers hold firm that Russia is a large player in the world of aggressive cyberspace, as senior U.S. intelligence officials announced recently that the Kremlin believes itself capable of launching numerous hacking operations against the West.
Thursday’s security alert warned of such behavior from the foreign hackers, and provided a link to an analysis put out by U.S. cyber security firm Symantec just last fall.
According to the analysis, Symantec stated that a group called Dragonfly “had targeted energy companies in the United States and Europe and in some cases broke into the core systems that control the companies’ operations,” Reuters reported.
Though at the time, Symantec didn’t cite Russia as the main culprit, campaigns involving malicious emails dating back all the way to 2015 were reportedly used to gain entry into certain organizations in the U.S. and other foreign countries.
A National Security Council spokesman for the White House did not respond when asked to explain what motivated the White House to publicly blame Russia, though that hasn’t stopped others from speaking out on the issue.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said former U.S. official Amit Yoran, who founded the DHS’ Computer Emergency Response Team.
Yoran added that the decision by the current administration to publicly denounce Russia for their alleged hacking attempts against the U.S. was “unprecedented and extraordinary.”
Echoing Yoran’s sentiments was Ben Read, a manager for cyber espionage analysis with the cyber security company FireEye Inc., who recalled a report from June about threats to security within the industry, though no one was sure who to blame at the time.
“People sort of suspected Russia was behind it,” Read said. “But today’s statement from the U.S. government carries a lot of weight.”
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