In 2017, spying allegations that surfaced in 2017 about Kaspersky, Russia’s premier software company. No concrete evidence was ever presented, but the scandal surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 elections created an irreparable atmosphere of mistrust. That mistrust goes both ways. So does espionage.
According to an exclusive Reuters report sourced to four anonymous individuals, internet search company Yandex, thought of as the ‘Russian Google’, was targeted in a Western intelligence operation late last year.
The operation deployed a malware called Regin--described as the ‘crown jewel’ of espionage--to spy on user accounts on behalf of the U.S., the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, according to Reuters’ sources, which appear to include Russian sources with direct knowledge of the attack.
Reuters did not receive confirmation from the intelligence agencies of the countries allegedly involved.
Yandex, of course, is keen to let everyone know that the attack was quickly detected and dealt with before any damage was done. At the same time, Reuters quotes Yandex representatives as saying that the malware succeeded in giving the perpetrators access for several weeks before being detected.
In the case of Yandex, it was Kaspersky to the rescue. It was Kaspersky that discovered that the hackers were “likely tied to Western intelligence”, according to the Reuters report.
This news, of source, should surprise no one.
Hi-tech espionage is today’s game, and arguably the West isn’t winning it.
Look no further than the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails showing that the party favored Clinton over Sanders. The revelation of that hack weakened Clinton and gave Republicans the advantage. It was a Russian intelligence operation, and 12 individuals have already been indicted over it. Russia’s GRU and the Russian Internet Research Agency were also behind an anti-Clinton media campaign in 2016 that targeted nearly 130 million Americans.
It’s also been a focus of the Mueller investigation.
Last year, the Americans--more precisely, U.S. Cyber Command--fought back, attacking the Russian agencies in a pre-emptive move during U.S. midterm elections.
Then, earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Washington’s cyber forces launched more aggressive attacks on Russia’s electric power grid as a warning to Putin and a demonstration of how this game can be played by others as well.
The Yandex incident, if true, means that this cyber war has escalated exponentially.
It’s also very bad news for Yandex and its partners because some may take this to mean that the internet search company is on the American radar as a Russian government tool. But the history here is far more complicated than that, and espionage at Yandex would be lucrative from an intelligence perspective simply because of the users.
This is, after all, the ‘Google’ of Russia.
Yandex isn’t exactly in the Kremlin’s good graces. State-run Sberbank wants a controlling share, and when that news came out in October last year, Yandex stock plunged. Investors don’t like the idea of a brilliant tech company like Yandex being controlled the state. They are also hounded by the FSB, which would very much like to gets its hands on Yandex tech and data, and they are simultaneously being squeezed by the Russian legal system.
The company is also being slammed on another front--the Chinese one, with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba backing Yandex’s key rival in Russia for digital advertising, Mail.ru, by buying a 10-percent stake.
In other words, Yandex is fighting its own war against multiple intelligence agencies.
By Michael Kern for conil.me
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