Truss exposes ‘calculated and dangerous’ Russian spy plot on UK’s critical infrastructure

Putin threatening ‘high-risk cyber attacks’ says expert

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The hackers are said to belong to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the primary successor to the KGB, the Soviet Union’s notorious intelligence agency. Their historic record of cyberattacks against systems across Europe, the Americas and Asia has been publically exposed thanks to the efforts of the UK, the US and our other allies. The revelations come exactly a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin instigated an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

According to the UK National Cyber Security Centre, the personnel of the FSB’s Centre 16 are also known by the hacker group pseudonyms of “Berserk Bear”, “Energetic Bear” and “Crouching Yeti”.

According to intelligence gathered by the Government, the FSB’s “long raft of malign cyber activity” includes the targeting of various UK energy companies.

Centre 16 has also engaged in the “sustained and substantial” scanning and probing of computers networks associated with the American aviation sector, alongside the exfiltration of data from such systems and other key US targets.

Reports indicate that the FSB’s hackers have posed as the Russian Federal Tax Service in order to target Russian nationals with so-called spear-phishing attacks, in which individuals are sent fraudulent emails or SMS messages for the purposes of data theft or fraud.

A spear-phishing attack was also launched against the press secretary of the UK-based exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, who has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of the Kremlin and its activities.

The FSB is also understood to have been monitoring a website Mr Khodorkovskiy established to expose corruption across the echelons of the Russian government.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.

“It shows Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.

“We are sending a clear message to the Kremlin by sanctioning those who target people, businesses and infrastructure. We will not tolerate it.

“We will continue to work together with our allies to turn the ratchet and starve Putin’s war machine of its funding and resources.”

Ms Truss has this week used the UK’s cyber sanctions regime against a Russian Ministry of Defence subsidiary — the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics, which is known by the unpronounceable acronym of “TsNIIKhM”.

The institute is understood to have had a role in an incident involving safety override controls at a Saudi Arabia- based petrochemicals plant in 2017.

According to the Government, the malware used against the chemical facility targeted the plant’s Industrial Control System safety override, resulting in two emergency shutdowns of the plant.

However, the malicious software was designed to give Russia complete control over infected systems — and therefore had the capability of causing significant damage and loss of life through either the release of toxic chemicals or the inducement of an explosion.

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Back in 2020, TsNIIKhM was also sanctioned by the US Government, which accused the Institute of being connected to the malware known as “Triton”, which was developed to target and impede the effectiveness of industrial safety systems. Moscow refuted the allegations.

Today, the FBI has also indicted the FSB’s Centre 16 for targeting, unfruitfully, the controlling systems of the Wolf Creek nuclear power station in Kansas, also back in 2017.

The measures taken this week by the against TsNIIKhM followed the announcement by the UK of new sanctions against a further 65 banks and oligarchs who are believed to be enabling Putin’s war against Ukraine.

According to the Foreign Secretary, this brings the total of the UK’s sanctions on Russia to more than £500billion worth of bank assets and £150billion in personal net worth.

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