Russian hackers 'targeted Britain's energy companies and vital industries'

25 March 2022, 06:07

Russian hackers targeted global infrastructure in a nearly decade-long campaign
Russian hackers targeted global infrastructure in a nearly decade-long campaign. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Russian spies have been accused of targeting vital UK infrastructure, including energy companies, in a "calculated and dangerous" hacking campaign.

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Britain's cyber security experts are "almost certain" that Moscow’s Federal Security Service [FSB], the successor to the Soviet KGB, is behind the "historic" effort.

The Foreign Office called it a "global campaign targeting critical national infrastructure".

It is thought the project took place over nearly a decade and also targeted engineering and industrial sectors.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: "Russia's targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.

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"It shows Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies."

Ms Truss has also sanctioned the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics, a subsidiary of the Russian defence ministry, over an incident where the safety controls of a Saudi petro-chemicals plant were overridden in 2017.

"We are sending a clear message to the Kremlin by sanctioning those who target people, businesses and infrastructure," she said.

"We will not tolerate it. We will continue to work together with our allies to turn the ratchet and starve Putin's war machine of its funding and resources."

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre said it was "almost certain" the FSB's Centre 16 was behind the campaign.

The cell is also known under hacking pseudonyms like Energetic Bear, Berserk Bear and Crouching Yeti. It aimed for IT systems and national infrastructure in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

The Foreign Office said Centre 16 concentrated on engineering and industrial control firms.

Hackers "may be able to access contact lists of hacked companies and establish long term access to networks", the Foreign Office said. Energy companies were also targeted.

Centre 16 was also linked to compromising software used by European manufactures and wind turbine developers.

It is said to have gained access to European and North American energy sectors through spear phishing attacks, a tactic involving targeted emails or texts that are sent to people or organisations to steal data or commit espionage or fraud.

And the West also accuses it of stealing user information and getting in US energy and nuclear facilities, as well as water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.

The US's Department of Justice has charged four people, all Russians who worked for the Russian government, in relation to hacking.