Russian cybercriminals attack US government agencies

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Several US federal government agencies have fallen victim to a global cyberattack by Russian cybercriminals.

The attack exploits a vulnerability in widely used software, leading to concerns about data breaches and potential disruptions. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is working urgently to understand the impacts and facilitate timely remediation.

Colin Little, Security Engineer at Centripetal, said:

“Given the scope of this campaign along with the view of of the geopolitical landscape at the time of its unfolding as well as the alleged nationality of the major affiliation behind the campaign, my opinion is this campaign signals a major escalation in the hostilities of ongoing cyber warfare.

What’s worse, I believe the impact of this campaign has a strong potential to trigger a chain reaction of continuing and major escalations of hostilities not only in cyber warfare but in the geopolitical landscape as well.

Unlike other industry verticals classified as critical infrastructure, national governments such as the US federal government (and other national governments which have been breached in this campaign) may be permitted to deploy more offensive cyber resources than, say, a university or a hospital.”

Additionally, experts estimate that several hundred US companies and organisations may have been affected.

Scope of the attack

CISA has identified the software impacted by the attack as MOVEit, a widely used application for data transfers.

The ransomware gang believed to be responsible, known as Clop, is notorious for demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms. However, there have been no ransom demands reported from federal agencies thus far.

Erich Kron, Security Awareness Advocate at KnowBe4, commented:

“If this was one of the Clop affiliates, it is a very brazen move as it is likely to draw some serious attention from the federal government.

Many cyber gangs, even those backed by nation-state players, try to avoid the focused attention of the US government and its allies.

Some significant cybercrime groups have fallen after they have become a focused target of the government, and this sort of attack is likely to put them straight in the crosshairs of the response teams.”

While the attack has affected US government agencies, including the Department of Energy, CISA Director Jen Easterly assures that the impacts on federal civilian agencies have not been significant.

Growing tally of victims

The recent hacking campaign has targeted various victims, including major US universities, state governments, and federal agencies.

The attacks have put additional pressure on federal officials who have committed to combating ransomware attacks that have increasingly affected schools, hospitals, and local governments nationwide.

The hackers have been exploiting a flaw in the MOVEit software since late last month, prompting Progress Software – the software’s manufacturer – to address the vulnerability urgently.

Response and investigation

While some agencies have promptly denied being victims of the hacking, others have taken immediate action to mitigate the impact.

The Transportation Security Administration and the State Department have confirmed that they were not affected.

The Department of Energy, meanwhile, has informed Congress and is cooperating with law enforcement, CISA, and the affected entities to investigate the incident and minimise the consequences of the breach.

Several institutions, including Oak Ridge Associated Universities and a contractor associated with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, have reported compromised records.

Implications and future concerns

The severity of the cyberattack underscores the need for robust cybersecurity measures and constant vigilance. The involvement of Russian cybercriminals raises concerns about state-sponsored hacking activities and the potential for escalating cyber conflicts.

While Clop has claimed credit for some of the hacks, it is possible that other groups now have access to the software code required to carry out similar attacks.

The situation highlights the importance of collaborative efforts between governments, private organisations, and security experts to enhance cybersecurity defenses and swiftly address vulnerabilities.

Amid heightened cybersecurity threats, the incident emphasises the urgency of bolstering defensive measures at all levels to protect sensitive data and critical infrastructure.

With cybercriminals’ increasing sophistication and global reach, collaboration and information-sharing among nations – such as through NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence – will be essential to safeguarding digital ecosystems from these evolving threats.

(Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash)

See also: Russian hackers disrupt NATO comms used for earthquake relief

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