NBC News reports: Two teams of highly skilled hackers directed and protected by the Russian state are on the offensive.
Cybersecurity experts and intelligence officials tell NBC News the same hackers who broke into the Democratic Party’s computers, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Administration System and who are implicated in the leaks of the personal emails of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the health documents of Olympians are executing a Kremlin-backed campaign of cyber-espionage and sabotage.
Their target: Western democratic institutions and Russia’s political opponents.
“They are starting to figure out the way to apply the power they have in terms of technical capabilities into the geopolitical aspect,” Italian cyber security investigator Stefano Maccaglia told NBC News.
At a small square in Rome on a recent summer day, Maccaglia explained how he came to know most of these hackers in the early 2000s, when he was one himself. Having since crossed to the other side, Maccaglia’s job now is to investigate — sometimes for the Italian government — the Russian hackers’ cyber-attacks.
Maccaglia, who is now an advisory consultant for the network security company RSA, explained that the two teams of Russian hackers vary from trained researchers with a mathematical background to “the very funny person” skilled in computer programming languages and are turned into “gangs of cyber-mercenaries” who offer their “brilliance” to the highest bidder.
“They obviously have a very good life now,” Maccaglia said of the privileges they enjoy for their services.
Their relationship to the Russian state, he explained, is a win-win: The cyber gangsters are allowed to keep stealing — their traditional hacking work — as long as they do the bidding of Russian intelligence services.
In exchange, they receive state protection.
“They are above the law and are obviously protected,” Maccaglia said. “That’s why nobody can prosecute them. There is no way to reach them anymore.” [Continue reading…]