US, UK allege Russian-backed hackers of global cyber espionage campaign

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Cyber security representatives from the U.S. and Britain have warned of Russian state-sponsored cyber-attacks that are targeting network infrastructure devices such as routers and firewalls, to compromise government and private sectors globally.

Australian companies, including government agencies, are among those to have reportedly been caught in an alleged worldwide cyber-attack by Russian hackers. Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency had already warned that Russian Federation was using its cyber capabilities to target democracies.

"When we see malicious cyber activity, whether it be from the Kremlin or other malicious nation state actors, we are going to push back", said Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity coordinator.

Officials said the activity had been under observation for "some time" and was not directly related to missile strikes on Syria.

"For over twenty years, GCHQ has been tracking the key Russian cyber attack groups and today's joint UK-US alert shows that the threat has not gone away". This is the first time that in attributing a cyber attack to Russian Federation the United States and the UK have, at the same time, issued joint advice to industry about how to manage the risks from the attack.

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"We don't have full insight into the scope of the compromise", said Jeanette Manfra, a cybersecurity official for the US Department of Homeland Security.

"They could be pre-positioning for use in times of tension", said Ciaran Martin, chief executive of the British government's National Cyber Security Centre cyber defense agency, who added that "millions of machines" were targeted. So a hacker can monitor, modify or disrupt it, she said.

"Once you own the router, you own the traffic that's traversing the router", she said.

Network device vendors, ISPs, public sector organisations, private sector corporations and small office and home office customers should read the alert (TA18-106A - and act on the recommended mitigation strategies. "But unlike Russian Federation, we abide by the law, so anything we do would be proportionately done", said one source.

"The current state of U.S. and United Kingdom network devices, coupled with a Russian government campaign to exploit these devices, threatens our respective safety, security, and economic well-being", the technical alert said. It was not clear whether that compromise was part of the same campaign.