British Cyber Security Agency Issues An Alert

The British government's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warned on 19th April of an emerging threat to Western critical national infrastructure posed by hackers sympathetic to Russia and its war on Ukraine. Although such groups are ideologically motivated and align themselves with Russian state interests, they are "not subject to formal state control," the alert said.

Now, a government minister has warned that Russia-aligned hackers are seeking to "disrupt or destroy" Britain's critical infrastructure.

The groups have started to focus on the UK in recent months, Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden says. These groups are ideologically motivated and not formally controlled by the Russian government, making them less predictable, according to the NCSC's alert.

Russia-aligned "hacktivists" have carried out a largely harmless online campaigns that have defaced prominent public websites or knocked them offline. However, some of those groups have been actively plotting ways to do more real-world damage, according to the NCSC. 

"Some have stated a desire to achieve a more disruptive and destructive impact against western critical national infrastructure, including in the UK... We expect these groups to look for opportunities to create such an impact, particularly if systems are poorly protected," said the NCSC alert, which was released during a two-day security conference hosted by the NCSC and GCHQ in Belfast.

A successful cyber attack on critical national infrastructure such as an energy grid or water supply could be highly destructive and do serious real-world damage.

Gavin Millard, Deputy Chief Technology of leading cyber security firm Tenable observed that "Threats from state based actors against critical infrastructure isn’t new and, as we’ve seen from multiple statements from the US, is a constant issue... With an aging infrastructure and a vast attack surface vulnerable to known flaws, it’s important to know the weaknesses threat actors target and mitigate in a timely manner, as a successful cyber attack against critical assets could have wide ranging impacts to the population and economy."

In its mid-year 2022 Cyber Threat Report, US security company SonicWall identified a 23 per cent drop in the number of ransomware attempts. It attributed this to several factors, including a “downward” trend in the number of organisations willing to pay cyber criminals. “With roughly two thirds of state-sponsored cyber attacks coming from Russia, and 75% of money generated by ransomware in 2021 going to groups “highly likely to be affiliated with Russia,” anything affecting that country has an outsized effect on cybercriminals, and in turn, cybercrime,” says the SonicWall Report.

Meanwhile, there has been increased government and law-enforcement focus on taking down ransomware criminals and the apparatus they use to support their business. This crackdown has come in the wake of several debilitating attacks on high-profile targets, such as the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021.

John Fitzpatrick, CTO at cyber security services firm Jumpsec said “The specific threat that Oliver Dowden spoke of is somewhat different, these are groups sympathetic to Russia but not necessarily state-sponsored or sanctioned groups. Their capability is not to the level we typically associate with the Russian threat, and it is far less predictable... For those investing heavily in cyber resilience, this really should not change a lot, but the likelihood of Denial of Service (DoS) and other "low bar to entry" type attacks will, no doubt, increase and so it may be sensible for some organisation to validate their plans in those areas in light of this warning."

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also had some unexpected effects - many Russian based hackers have turned their attention to attacks related to the conflict, rather than ransomware, or have had their operations disrupted by sanctions against Russia.

SonicWall:        NBC:     Reuters:     FT:     BBC:   Cyprus Mail:     UPI

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NCSC Alert: British Journalists & Politicians Are Hacking Targets:

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