Friday, December 30, 2016

How Russia Recruited Elite Hackers for Its Cyberwar

While much about Russia’s cyberwarfare program is shrouded in secrecy, details of the government’s effort to recruit programmers in recent years — whether professionals like Mr. Vyarya, college students, or even criminals — are shedding some light on the Kremlin’s plan to create elite teams of computer hackers.

American intelligence agencies say that a team of Russian hackers stole data from the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign. On Thursday, the Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering in the election, the bedrock of the American political system.

The sanctions take aim at Russia’s main intelligence agencies and specific individuals, striking at one part of a sprawling cyberespionage operation that also includes the military, military contractors and teams of civilian recruits.

For more than three years, rather than rely on military officers working out of isolated bunkers, Russian government recruiters have scouted a wide range of programmers, placing prominent ads on social media sites, offering jobs to college students and professional coders, and even speaking openly about looking in Russia’s criminal underworld for potential talent.

Those recruits were intended to cycle through military contracting companies and newly formed units called science squadrons established on military bases around the country. (...)

The military’s push into cyberwarfare had intensified in 2012, with the appointment of a new minister of defense, Mr. Shoigu. The next year, a senior defense official, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov published what became known as the Gerasimov Doctrine. It posited that in the world today, the lines between war and peace had blurred and that covert tactics, such as working through proxies or otherwise in the shadows, would rise in importance.

He called it “nonlinear war.” His critics called it “guerrilla geopolitics.”

But Russia is certainly not alone.

“Almost all developed countries in the world, unfortunately, are creating offensive capabilities, and many have confirmed this,” said Anton M. Shingarev, a vice president at Kaspersky, a Russian antivirus company.

Recruitment by Russia’s military should be expected, he said. “You or I might be angry about it, but, unfortunately, it’s just reality. Many countries are doing it. This is the reality.”

American intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency, have for decades recruited on college campuses. In 2015, the N.S.A. offered a free summer camp to 1,400 high school and middle school students, where they were taught the basics of hacking, cracking and cyberdefense.

In Russia, recruiters have looked well beyond the nation’s school system.

by Andrew E. Kramer, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images