The Justice Department unsealed charges Thursday against four Russian government operatives accused in two separate hacking schemes targeting global energy sectors.
Federal officials said the long-running campaigns, allegedly pursued from 2012 to 2018, targeted “thousands of computers at hundreds of companies” spanning about 135 countries.
The operatives’ links to various arms of the Russian government had been long suspected in the years-old cases. All four remain at large.
While the cases involve past cyber campaigns involving the Russian government, federal officials said the episodes highlight the current threat posed by the Kremlin as part of its continuing offensive against Ukraine.
In the month since Russia began its invasion, US officials have repeatedly called on US companies to bolster cyber defenses against an anticipated wave of intrusions and disruptions. That warning took on new urgency this week when President Joe Biden again raised the prospect of a Russian cyber offensive against the US
In one of the cases made public Thursday, prosecutors charged Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, a Russian Ministry of Defense official who allegedly conspired between May and September 2017 to damage a refinery outside the US, prompting two shutdowns at the targeted facility.
The following year, the same conspirators allegedly researched similar refineries in the United States, owned by the same American company, and “unsuccessfully attempted to hack the US company’s computer systems.” Federal authorities did not identify the company.
In the second case, federal officials said Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov and Marat Valeryevich Tyukov, all officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service or FSB, sought to compromise computers at hundreds of energy sector entities across the globe.
As part of that operation, unleashed between 2014 and 2017, the Russian hackers identified thousands of targets, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other US government agencies.
The hacking group was identified as part of the attack that compromised the business network linked to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation in Burlington, Kansas.
“Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said. “Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity, they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defenses and remain vigilant. Alongside our partners here at home and abroad, the Department of Justice is committed to exposing and holding accountable state-sponsored hackers who threaten our critical infrastructure with cyber-attacks.”
Officials said they elected to make the charges public now in part to underscore the current cyber threat posed by Russia and because the suspects’ arrests were immediately unlikely since they are all believed to be in Russia. .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism