In Rare Move, US Publicly Accuses Russia Of Hacking Critical Infrastructure Systems

Sputnik/Kremlin/Mikhail Klimentyev via REUTERS

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Homeland security officials on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a multi-year hacking operation against the U.S. power grid and other infrastructure systems, the first time Washington has publicly accused Moscow of cyber attacks on the energy sector.

Beginning in 2016, or possibly earlier, Kremlin-linked “cyber actors” targeted both government and private and critical infrastructure systems in the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors, according to a security alert published Thursday.

The joint alert, produced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI, identified multiple incidents where Russian hackers planted malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks. It did not name facilities or companies that were targeted.

The direct condemnation of Moscow’s hacking escalates and publicizes what has been a simmering cyber conflict between the U.S. and Russia. Historically, Washington has been reluctant to call out foreign hacking in part because it also probes the critical infrastructure systems of other countries around the world.

Thursday’s security alert came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will sanction 19 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Among those individuals are 13 Russians indicted by Special Counsel Robert Muller as a part of his investigation into Russian election interference.

The punitive measures will also target the Russian entities responsible for cyber attacks on the U.S. energy grid.

Trump has also joined European allies in condemning Moscow for its alleged involvement in the nerve agent attack on a Russian double agent on British soil last week. In a joint statement with the U.K., France and Germany, Washington called the incident a “clear violation” of international law.

Moscow said on Friday it would respond to the Trump administration’s new sanctions by expanding its own list of American citizens who are banned from traveling or doing business in Russia.

“From the very beginning, we use the principle of parity on the number of people included in sanction lists,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to state media. “So we will expand our ‘black list’ with another group of Americans.”

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