Russian hackers increase attacks on western companies

Germany reports cyber meddling during war in Ukraine causing billions of dollars in losses

Russia has overtaken China as the main cyber threat to German companies. Reuters
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Russian hackers have intensified attacks on western companies and inflicted billion-dollar losses since the start of the war in Ukraine, German intelligence said on Friday.

A spy agency said Russia was behind about half the attacks on the German economy – overtaking China for the first time.

Hackers from around the world caused more than €200 billion ($217 million) in losses in the past year by extracting passwords, stealing trade secrets, halting production or causing reputational damage to German businesses.

Western governments drew attention to increased Russian espionage during the war.

Sweden this week charged a suspected GRU agent with secretly acquiring technology that Moscow could not buy legitimately under western sanctions.

Russian hacker group Killnet was blamed for taking down the websites of several German companies, including airports, in retaliation for Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

State agencies are assumed to “draw on criminal groups” and attacks by professional hackers are “tolerated or supported” by hostile governments, said Sinan Selen, the vice president of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

Ralf Wintergerst, the head of digital association Bitkom, said solving crimes in cyber space “always requires co-operation” but with Russia this is “not really possible at the moment”.

“The German economy is an attractive target for attacks by criminals and hostile states,” he said.

State agencies sometimes turn to organised criminals to carry out attacks, which can be disguised by routing them through work-from-home networks, analysis by the spy agency and Bitkom said.

They said 46 per cent of companies targeted by hackers in the past year discovered that the attacks originated from Russia, up from 23 per cent before the invasion of Ukraine.

Almost half of German companies said they had tightened cyber security because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has also coincided with more suspected attacks from China.

However, a similar number said “massive cyber attacks” linked to the conflict had not materialised. The most common modes of hacking were phishing, malware and password theft.

Dozens of companies reported having emails, customer details, passwords, financial data or intellectual property stolen by hackers.

Despite efforts to cover their traces, in many cases they left behind digital fingerprints that pointed to Russia, Mr Selen said.

Businesses reported €35 billion in losses caused by cyber attack-related blows to their image, typically when employee or customer data was stolen.

About 61 per cent of companies in the study said they saw authorities as powerless against attacks from abroad.

Russia has long been accused of cyber meddling in the West. Former Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin last year admitted interfering in US elections.

Germany accused Russia of trying to steal passwords from MPs only weeks before a 2021 general election, saying it had “reliable information” that GRU military intelligence was behind the attack.

Updated: September 01, 2023, 10:47 AM