Russia is pursuing its expansionist war on cyber crime, after ignoring sanctions from the US against cyber attacks on election systems in the US and Europe.
Cybercrime experts report high activity in Russia in the past week. Two specialist security specialists posted detailed messages showing activity in their Twitter accounts. They reported unusual network connections, which they describe as akin to summoning a mafia hitman. Both reported warnings from cloud storage providers not to delete files.
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A statement from the Russian security service, the FSB, denied any involvement in cyber attacks. “As of this moment, there is no [Russian] cyber-criminal activity, but it is possible that there could be events taking place in the underground,” it said.
Last week, the FSB published a directive requiring that all officials attending conferences on cyber crime, including the St Petersburg International Security Forum, be contacted in person. “Citizens must get the message that their work is important and that they can be held responsible for Russian government’s decision,” the directive read.
The order has led to an unusual atmosphere at this week’s conference, as no Russians attending the event have been invited.
The minister of justice, Anton Zharov, and the editor-in-chief of the state-run Smedmor-Ru newspaper, Mikhail Shvets, said they received explicit orders not to attend, after they spoke publicly in favour of Russian hacking of the US presidential election in 2016.
Recent technology has enabled unprecedented efforts to infiltrate networks and steal valuable data for criminal purposes. Last week, Sony revealed that hackers had stolen five years of emails from its corporate network and published them online, as part of a year-long campaign of cyber espionage against the entertainment company.
One of the main targets of that campaign, Sony Pictures, was crippled for several weeks, eventually prompting President Donald Trump to blame it on North Korea, despite there being a trail of evidence proving that China was the likely culprit.
Separately, a well-known academic who has been a leading figure in an expanding network of Kremlin-controlled cybercrime operations has fled Russia, along with his wife and children, due to threats.
Adam Meyers, now based in California, has posted messages on social media and online forums about the threats he and his family have received over his work for a group of Russian Internet companies.