Feb 24, 2023 - Technology

Russian cybercrime is starting to rebound after war disruption

Illustration of a lock in the colors of the Russian flag.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Russia's cybercrime underground is starting to recover from the disruptions caused during the ongoing war, which could spell bad news for U.S. companies, experts told Axios.

The big picture: Before the war started, some still hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin might crack down on the deluge of ransomware gangs in his country.

Why it matters: The war has killed off any incentive Putin may have had to stop cybercrime operations from targeting Western organizations.

  • Instead, given the lax relationship between Russian state-sponsored hacking groups and cybercrime gangs in the country, Putin has more reason to spur them on.

Flashback: When the war started, factions formed within cybercrime forums between those who supported Russia's war and those who stood with Ukraine.

  • A prime example of this was when a Ukrainian member of the Conti ransomware gang leaked its internal files after the group pledged allegiance to Russia.
  • Many Russian hackers fled to neighboring countries to avoid the military draft, according to a report from Recorded Future released this morning.

What's happening: Initial slowdowns in the Russian cybercrime underground have proven to be only blips, experts told Axios.

  • "There's still plenty of them that have got their operations back running and are conducting crime again," Mandiant's Hultquist said.
  • Hultquist said several Russian state-sponsored hackers have also been purchasing initial access to an organization from cybercriminal groups.

Between the lines: Even Russian cybercriminals who have fled their country to avoid the draft are seemingly starting to deploy ransomware attacks, Thanos said.

  • Thanos' organization, Arctic Wolf, has seen an uptick in so-called anonymous attacks, where a solo actor attacks an organization, never claims public responsibility for the attack, and demands a small payout to decrypt the files.

The intrigue: By enabling cybercrime gangs, the Russian government can claim it wasn't responsible for any of the groups' attacks while reaping the benefits of seeing Western organizations hindered.

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