Russian interests suspected in cyber attacks

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MOSCOW (CNN) – Imagine a government paying cyber criminals to wage cyber warfare on another government.

While it may sound like a spy novel, it’s real. And forensic computer experts say it’s happening now.

Is Washington the latest battlefield in Russia’s cyberwar with the West?

The Kremlin denies allegations it was behind the recent White House computer security breach.

But analysts say Russia has emerged as a highly sophisticated cyber threat.

“By far the biggest problem related to cyber security in Russia is the criminal elements inside Russia which are then targeting the rest of the world. This includes banking trojans, ransom trojans, key loggers, botnets. There are a large number of government-related cases coming out of Russia as well. But they target a much narrower range of targets,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer of F-Secure.

But there are growing suspicions that range is broadening. As relations between Russia and the West deteriorate, particularly over the conflict in Ukraine, analysts say they’re seeing coordinated digital attacks against Western institutions and infrastructure.

At the Moscow headquarters of Kaspersky Labs, which tracks global cyber threats, analysts say an upsurge in military and political targets point to state involvement.

And analysts suspect the same highly skilled programmers behind criminal cyber attacks are now also being paid as mercenaries in a global cyber war.

“What we see now is that governments come to cyber criminals. They communicate, not directly of course. We see it in Russia, we see it in the United States, we see it in China, everywhere. …and the government pays the cyber criminals to develop malware,” said Sergey Lozhkin, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab Inc.

There is of course little by way of hard evidence pinning any cyber attacks on Russia, or any other country. Anonymity is one of the key reasons cyber warfare is so widespread. But analysts say the types of targets being hit, and the level of sophistication being used, points to a coordinated Kremlin-backed campaign against the West, into which even Russia’s cyber criminals may have been drawn.

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