Internet: Russian cyber troops can overturn western sanctions

Russian cyber troops can overturn western sanctions

According to security experts, hackers working on behalf of Russia can at least partially overturn the economic sanctions imposed for the attack on Ukraine. Photo: Sina Schuldt/dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

Russian cyber attacks were commonplace for companies and authorities in the West even before the Ukraine war. So far, mainly criminal gangs acted. Now they could be commissioned more often by the Kremlin.

So far, the Kremlin has only used limited cyberattacks in Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

But that could change soon. Under certain circumstances, however, the goal would be institutions in the West to compensate for the financial damage caused by the sanctions imposed. At the very least, experts warn that hackers on behalf of Russia will try to use cyber attacks to at least partially offset the consequences of the economic sanctions.

For example, Russian cyber troops are able to raise money through financial market manipulation, said Sandro Gaycken, founder of the Digital Society Institute at the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) Berlin of the German Press Agency. “It is also conceivable that they are working with criminal ransomware gangs to extort ransoms from attacked companies in the West.”

Warnings from the USA

Several US experts had previously warned that the Kremlin would respond to the sanctions with targeted cyber attacks. US President Joe Biden referred to “developing knowledge” that “the Russian government is examining options for potential cyber attacks”. He called on companies and organizations to take immediate steps to strengthen cyber defenses.

Russia will take subversive measures to get fresh money, Gaycken said. “They are able to manipulate stock exchange trading, you can criminally influence bets on falling stock prices.” Criminal activities are also possible in company mergers and takeovers. Front companies of the Russian oligarchs could also be used for this purpose. “If Russia needs a lot of money quickly, which it looks like at the moment, this can lead to massive manipulative attacks on the global economy. For the West, this means that the defenses have to be strengthened if we don’t want to be robbed completely.”

The Berlin security expert pointed out that cryptocurrencies play an important role in the blackmail attacks. They would be used to transfer values, for example when funds were to be hidden. “But at the same time you can easily understand the individual steps on the blockchain.” But you need specialists who can do that. “The few people that are in this area are more likely to be poached by the banks.”

Gaycken called for not just being limited to pure defence: “Several banks have had good experiences responding to attacks on their infrastructure with targeted “hackbacks”. These cases have shown that such counterattacks can be carried out very precisely without suffering major collateral damage.” In the area of ​​crypto, too, the attackers could be massively disrupted with “hackbacks”. «You could track down and freeze the so-called wallets, i.e. the crypto accounts. Technically everything is possible. But none of that is done, also because we are politically and legally in our way. »

Difficult to impossible to identify

Security expert Rüdiger Trost from cyber defense specialist WithSecure, on the other hand, warned against “hackbacks”: It is fundamentally difficult or even impossible to identify the aggressor of a hacker attack beyond a doubt. «Cyber ​​criminals are already successfully trying to lay false tracks. How are you going to make sure you’re hacking back at the aggressor – and not accidentally attacking an innocent bystander? That is a great danger.”

Trost explained that it is quite conceivable that Russia is now trying to expand its cyber capacities. «But even in Russia, IT specialists don’t grow on trees. And right now there are many indications that the young educated elite is increasingly turning its back on Russia and emigrating. Of course, that weakens the IT capabilities of a country as a whole.”

Gaycken said there are two major problems with cyber defense in Western countries: procurement and salaries. The purchase of technologies needed for cyber defense takes an average of 18 to 36 months in Germany. In this period, however, the envisaged solutions are already out of date. “You can’t buy the offensive technologies properly with the current procurement mechanisms.”

Better salaries in Silicon Valley

And for the use of these technologies, the adaptation to the attack target and the delivery of the software, you also need well-trained experts in day-to-day operations. “But they are also urgently needed by the IT industry. Big Silicon Valley corporations pay annual salaries from 300,000 euros up to 1.2 million euros for good hackers.”

However, the authorities only paid a fraction of this under the collective agreement for the public sector. Either the state has to change its salary structure or work more with external companies.


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