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Photo: Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The revelation that hackers tied to Russia managed to penetrate the Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security departments — at least — will be giving U.S. officials nightmares for a long time.

The big picture: News of the Russia-linked hack, which Reuters broke Sunday, has shaken the government and larger cybersecurity world and led some policymakers to call for retaliation against Russia.

What we know:

  • Who was (probably) behind it. Cyber operators likely working for the SVR, a Russian intelligence service, compromised the software of IT contractor SolarWinds to gain access to these government networks — and have been potentially roaming in them since March.
  • The group's history. The same hacking unit, known as APT 29 or Cozy Bear, hacked prominent cybersecurity vendor FireEye. Cozy Bear was also behind a major compromise in 2014 and 2015 of unclassified email systems at the Pentagon, White House, and State Department.
  • The upper limit of the hack's potential reach: Some 18,000 SolarWinds customers — not individuals, institutions — may have been breached in the campaign, said SolarWinds, likely including currently unnamed “national security agencies and defense contractors,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s Dustin Volz.

What we don't know:

  • What they were after. The hackers appeared to gain access to email systems within Commerce and Treasury, though we don’t know whose emails, nor just how sensitive they are. And it's possible they got deeper into government systems than merely scraping unclassified emails.
  • Whether the hackers are still active in victim networks. Once a determined and capable foreign intelligence service has forced its way into a system, it will seek new avenues to keep on spying even if its initial access points get cut off. We don't know if, or how many, victims' networks, are still compromised.
  • The full list of victims.

Yes, but: It’s a strong bet that there are other shoes waiting to drop.

  • SolarWinds’ customers include “more than 425 of the US Fortune 500,” “all ten of the top ten US telecommunications companies,” “all five branches of the US Military,” “the US Pentagon, State Department, NASA, NSA, Postal Service, NOAA, Department of Justice, and the Office of the President of the United States," and “all five of the top five US accounting firms,” per a page on the company’s website that was recently deleted.

Be smart: As stunning as the hack's apparent success may be, the effort behind it is par for the course in the world of cyberespionage. The general public just rarely gets a glimpse into the machinery of modern spying.

Update: Monday night, the New York Times reported "parts of" the Pentagon were also affected by the attack.

Go deeper

North Korean hackers targeted U.S. security researchers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Suspected North Korean state hackers have been using social engineering schemes to target security researchers, according to researchers with Google’s Threat Analysis Group.

Driving the news: Using platforms "including Twitter, LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase and email," the hackers themselves posed as threat researchers in order to build legitimate profiles and backstories.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

American officials and authorities in Haiti are working to try and free 17 hostages from a U.S.-based missionary group who were kidnapped in Port-au-Prince over the weekend, AP reported Monday.

The latest: Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement Sunday, "The group of 16 U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children." The Ohio-based organization said they were on a trip to visit an orphanage when they were kidnapped Saturday.

China's economic growth slows

A worker assembles heavy truck engines in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, on Monday. Photo: Long We/Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

China's economy grew 4.9% in the third quarter of 2021 compared with a year earlier, the country's National Bureau of Statistics announced Monday.

Why it matters: The gross domestic product growth in the July-September period in the world’s second-largest economy marked the "weakest pace since the third quarter of 2020 and slowing from 7.9% in the second quarter," Reuters notes.