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April 17 2018, The Times
Russian cyberattacks have targeted millions of computers, including home
Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor | Mark Bridge, Technology Correspondent |
A global Russian hacking offensive has targeted millions of computers to
spy on governments and lay the foundation for an attack on
infrastructure, Britain and the United States warned last night.
Tens of thousands of devices in British homes including wifi boxes are
in the sights of Kremlin-backed cyber-experts who are searching for
weaknesses such as easy-to-guess passwords and expired anti-virus software.
Security officials said yesterday that Russian hackers were seeking to
find ways to sit invisibly within networks enabling them to launch a
cyberattack should the order be given. Businesses have also been
targeted as hackers have sought to steal intellectual property.
In an unprecedented warning, the UK's National Cyber Security Centre,
the US Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the White House
signalled that the extent of the penetration was so deep and widespread
that it had given President Putin a "tremendous weapon".
The public attack on Moscow's "malicious cyberactivity" by the two
allies was an attempt to deter President Putin from unleashing his full
cyber-potential. It comes at a time of rising tensions between Moscow
and the West after Britain, the US and France launched airstrikes on
Syria, a close ally of Russia, following the suspected use of chemical
weapons by President Assad's regime. The US accused the Kremlin
yesterday of blocking efforts by international chemical weapons
inspectors to visit the site of the chemical attack in Douma.
Theresa May has addressed MPs to defend her decision to strike. Britain
has drawn a link between the action it took in Syria and a nerve agent
attack in Salisbury attributed to Russia.
Ciaran Martin, head of the NCSC, part of GCHQ, said that the warning
over Russia's activities was "a significant moment in the transatlantic
fightback against Russian aggression in cyberspace". Russia-backed
cyber-attacks have directly targeted the UK government and elements of
the country's critical national infrastructure, he said in the briefing
with US officials.
Rob Joyce, the White House's out-going cybersecurity co-ordinator,
signalled that the United States was ready to hit back against Russia
with offensive cyber-operations. "All elements of US power are available
to push back on these types of intrusions," he said.
An intelligence expert from the University of Buckingham said today that
Russia "raised the stakes considerably". Professor Anthony Glees said:
"An attack is an attack and an attack can be the first skirmish in a
battle that could lead to war. The cyber cold war is underway, and we
will await the Russian reaction over the next few days. We should hold
on to our hats."
It can also be revealed that Labour MPs were warned of an attempt to
hack parliamentary emails. It was not immediately clear whether the hack
had been successful or whether it was linked to Russia. The emailed
warning went out on Sunday night. The first UK-US "technical alert" was
released to the public, governments and private firms, including
internet service providers and other communications companies.
The alert revealed that:
- Tens of thousands of British devices have been scanned by
Kremlin-backed hackers looking for soft targets.
- Routers, including some made by Cisco, one of the largest internet
infrastructure companies, have been penetrated by Russia.
- Hackers are sitting invisibly in networks and routers, spying on
private communications and positioning themselves if needed for a wider
- Spoofing "man-in-the-middle" attacks are being conducted whereby a
hacker is able to intercept messages passing between two people and
delete or distort the content.
"Once you own the router, you own all the traffic [that flows through
the router], to include the ability to harvest credentials, passwords,
essentially monitor all traffic," Mr Joyce said. "It is a tremendous
weapon in the hands of an adversary."
Russia has been targeting Britain's networks and those of other
countries for the past 20 years but this is the first time that the UK
has publicised its actions so aggressively.
Mr Putin is also using disinformation and other forms of fake news as a
weapon on social media and via state-sponsored media outlets to sow
dissent among countries, including Britain, as part of a goal to
undermine European unity and the Nato alliance.
Britain led a multinational move in February to blame President Putin's
military for the crippling global Not-Petya cyberattack a year ago.
"Russia is our most capable hostile adversary in cyberspace," Mr Martin
The ability to control networks and household devices that connect to
the internet means Russia can launch denial-of-service attacks,
potentially knocking out services such as healthcare, energy supplies
and water supplies.
A British government spokesman said: "The attribution of this malicious
activity sends a clear message to Russia - we know what you are doing
and you will not succeed."
What is a router?
The device that connects your computer and network to the internet. They
often have a built-in "firewall" to stop viruses or hackers. If your
router is compromised, it can allow intruders in.
How is Russia hacking them?
Mostly there is no hacking; the internet is scanned to find devices that
offer an open goal. This includes some routers from Cisco where a system
enabling remote configuration by admins can be exploited. It also
includes routers that have default passwords such as "0-0-0-0" that
owners have not changed, or older routers that no longer get security
Why would they do that?
A router is a gateway into a person or organisation's network so they
can be used for espionage and to extract information. Once malicious
actors have access to a network they can attack that network or use it
as a springboard to attack others. That could include attacks on energy
What is a man-in-the-middle attack?
One in which information is hacked without the sender or recipient knowing.
Who is affected?
Intelligence agencies say that millions of networks have been targeted
What can I do to protect myself?
Home and small business users should ensure they have the firewalls on
their PCs enabled, so they are not relying on any firewalls built into
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