Rus­sian hack­ers tar­get cash be­fore pol­i­tics

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Just as the scan­dal over al­leged Rus­sian hack­ing of the US Demo­cratic Party erupted in June, po­lice in Rus­sia were round­ing up a group known as Lurk. In the un­der­ground world of Rus­sian hack­ers, a shad­ow­land of anony­mous internet fo­rums where users ex­change the lat­est mal­ware, Lurk was le­gendary.

The group, ac­tive since 2011, was ac­cused of steal­ing some three bil­lion rubles ($47 mil­lion, 42.5 mil­lion eu­ros) from Rus­sian banks and as­pir­ing hack­ers were keen to join. Then more than 50 mem­bers, most of whom hailed from the Urals city of Eka­ter­in­burg, were ar­rested in a sweep­ing raid that en­tailed 86 probes in 15 re­gions across the vast coun­try. But de­spite the eye-catch­ing op­er­a­tion, the crack­down on Lurk only touched the tip of the ice­berg of a lu­cra­tive crim­i­nal in­dus­try.

Moscow-based internet security giant Kasper­sky has es­ti­mated that there are over 1,000 hack­ers in Rus­sia spe­cial­iz­ing in fi­nan­cial crimes. Be­tween 2012 and 2015, by the com­pany’s con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, Rus­sian-speak­ing hack­ers stole at least $790 mil­lion across the globe. Mean­while, this type of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity is flour­ish­ing.

“The num­ber of fi­nan­cial cy­ber crim­i­nals is grow­ing as the use of on­line bank­ing rises,” ex­plained Yury Namest­nikov, the head of Kasper­sky’s Rus­sia re­search and anal­y­sis depart­ment. Adding to security woes are also the preva­lence of smart­phones-which are less well pro­tected than com­put­ers-and the rise in “ran­somware”, a tech­nique that al­lows hack­ers to steal data and then ran­som it back to the owner. “It is no se­cret that most of to­day’s crypto-ran­somware has Rus­sian roots, both in terms of the authors of the ma­li­cious code and of the ac­tors who spread the mal­ware and de­mand the ran­som,” Kasper­sky noted in a re­port.

For in­dus­try ex­perts Rus­sia’s du­bi­ous hon­our as a ma­jor power in the hack­ing world is no ac­ci­dent. “We have good math­e­mat­ics schools and Rus­sians know how to code prop­erly,” said Namest­nikov. “What is spe­cial about the Rus­sian hack­ers is that they have been ac­tive for so long.” Artem Sy­chev is in charge of cy­ber security at Rus­sia’s Cen­tral Bank and con­curs that “Rus­sian-speak­ing hack­ers were ed­u­cated in the Soviet-style sys­tem,” whose em­pha­sis on high-level maths and science con­tin­ues to­day. “They are most cre­ative peo­ple, in­clud­ing un­for­tu­nately in the area of fraud,” he said.

The furor over the US elec­tion hacks has shone a spot­light on al­leged ties be­tween hack­ers and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. Au­thor­i­ties in Wash­ing­ton have ac­cused top-rank­ing Rus­sian of­fi­cials of di­rect­ing at­tacks on the US aimed at un­der­min­ing the elec­tion. CrowdStrike, the security firm that un­cov­ered the hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said that the group be­hind it, Cozy Bears, was linked to Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence.

An­other group, Fancy Bears-which has hacked tar­gets in­clud­ing the World An­tiDop­ing Agency-mean­while has ties to the FSB spy agency, ac­cord­ing to Crowdstrike. Rus­sia has dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions and said US politi­cians are blam­ing Moscow in a bid to drum up their polling num­bers. Lo­cal ex­perts in­sist the vast ma­jor­ity of hack­ing in Rus­sia is aimed at thiev­ing cash-not in­ter­fer­ing in pol­i­tics.

“99 per­cent of internet pi­rates are look­ing to steal money,” said Ilya Sachkov, founder of Rus­sian security firm IB-Group. “There are no pa­tri­otic hack­ers.” Even while the Krem­lin is adamant in deny­ing a role in any of the hack­ing scan­dals, the au­thor­i­ties are cer­tainly strug­gling to tackle the is­sue­and of­ten ap­pear to turn a blind eye. “Un­for­tu­nately, for Rus­sian-speak­ing cy­ber­crim­i­nals cur­rent con­di­tions are more than fa­vor­able: the risk of pros­e­cu­tion is low while the po­ten­tial re­wards are high,” wrote Kasper­sky.

As an ex­am­ple, Rus­sian hacker Yevgeny Bo­gachev has a $3 mil­lion price on his head from the FBI. His net­work of hack­ers-which op­er­ated from Ukraine and Rus­sia be­fore be­ing dis­man­tled in 2014 — stole more than $80 mil­lion from vic­tims mainly in the US. De­spite be­ing wanted, Bo­gachev re­port­edly lives freely in the south­ern Rus­sian city of Krasnodar. — AFP

MOSCOW: A pic­ture taken on October 17, 2016 shows an em­ployee walk­ing be­hind a glass wall with ma­chine cod­ing sym­bols at the head­quar­ters of Internet security giant Kasper­sky. —AFP

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