WASHINGTON (AP/KDKA) — The war in Ukraine has come home in the form of cyberattacks on the U.S. economy. The FBI field office in Pittsburgh is being credited with saving thousands of small business computer systems, identifying and blocking a network of Russian bots before the damage could be done.
“We removed malware from devices used by thousands of mostly small businesses for network security all over the world and then we shut the door the Russians had used to get into them,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
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The announcement in Washington D.C. is part of a Justice Department crackdown on illegal Russian activity involving the seizure of assets from rich associates of Vladimir Putin known oligarchs. But this cyber attack was initiated by the Russian government itself, the military intelligence unit known as GRU.
Two years ago, after an investigation by Pittsburgh FBI, prosecutors indicted six GRU hackers as part of an attack resulting in billions of dollars of losses in the U.S., and U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung says all businesses are at risk.
“It can be used to deploy spyware onto possible victims’ computers, it could be used to shutdown victims’ access, it could be used to just monitor traffic,” she said.
Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Nordwall is asking all businesses to contact the FBI if they observe irregular or suspicious cyber activity.
Nordwall: “It’s certainly part of an ongoing persistent threat that’s posed by the Russian government, certainly within cyberspace.”
Sheehan: “To disrupt the U.S. economy?”
Nordwall: “To disrupt US interests and certainly economic security.”
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The actions, announced amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, underscore what U.S. officials say are their efforts to crack down on Russian criminal activity, to choke off the flow of “dirty money” and to disrupt the Kremlin’s malicious cyber acts.
US Atty General Merrick Garland announces series of actions against Russian oligarchs. “Our message is it does not matter how far you sail your yacht… the justice department will use every available tool to find you.” @KDKA pic.twitter.com/3dF7JfM0bE
— Andy Sheehan (@AndySheehankdka) April 6, 2022
The case against Konstantin Malofeyev, a Russian media baron, accuses him of trying to evade earlier Treasury Department sanctions resulting from Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Though the sanctions barred U.S. citizens from working for or doing business with him, Malofeyev allegedly used co-conspirators to secretly acquire media organizations across Europe in hopes of spreading pro-Russia propaganda.
A former CNBC and Fox News employee was arrested in London last month for his work as a television producer for Malofeyev.
The announcements come two days after U.S. officials seized a yacht in Spain belonging to a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Justice Department in the last year has taken aim against Russia-based cybercrime, recovering in June most of a multimillion-dollar ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to hackers after a ransomware attack that halted operations and announcing charges last fall against two suspected ransomware operators.
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