Mar 24, 2022 - World

DOJ charges 4 Russians with hacking global energy sector

The Kremlin, viewed from the roof of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, in Moscow, Russia.

The Kremlin, viewed from the roof of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, in Moscow in 2020. Photo: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Justice charged four Russian government employees for their parts in "two historical hacking campaigns" targeting the global energy sector in 135 countries between 2012 and 2018, the department announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: Thousands of computers at hundreds of energy companies around the world were targeted by Russian cyberattacks, according to a pair of newly unsealed federal indictments.

  • Access to such systems would've allowed Kremlin officials to "disrupt and damage such computer systems at a future time of its choosing," the DOJ said.

Details: Three intelligence officers are accused of launching cyberattacks from Russia's Federal Security Service against nuclear power facilities, power transmission companies and oil and gas conglomerates, according to one of the indictments.

  • Prosecutors identified the accused Russians as Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, 36, Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov, 42, and Marat Valeryevich Tyukov, 39.
  • Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, 36, a Russian Ministry of Defense researcher, is also accused of conspiring to hack into an overseas foreign refinery to install malware, according to a separate 2017 indictment.

What they're saying: “Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement.

  • “Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity, they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defenses and remain vigilant," she added.

The big picture: The announcement comes as President Biden meets with European leaders over Russia's ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

  • Biden previously warned private-sector U.S. companies that Russia is "exploring options" for cyberattacks in retaliation for U.S. economic sanctions tied to the Ukrainian conflict.
  • "Harden your cyber-defenses immediately," Biden said, according to a White House statement.
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