US government agencies and private companies rushed to secure their computer networks following the disclosure of a sophisticated and long-running cyber-espionage intrusion suspected of being carried out by Russian hackers.
The full extent of the damage is not yet clear. But the potential threat was significant enough that the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber security unit on Monday; directed all federal agencies to remove compromised and thousands of companies; were expected to do the same. What was striking about the operation was its potential scope as well as the manner in which; the perpetrators managed to pierce cyber defence and gain access to email and internet files at the Treasury and Commerce departments and potentially elsewhere.
The intrusion was stark evidence of the vulnerability of even supposedly secure government networks, even after well-known previous attacks.
The identity of the perpetrator remained unclear. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because; of an ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press on Monday that Russian hackers are suspected.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, said the attack was carried out; by Russian government hackers who go by the nicknames APT29 or Cozy Bear and are part of that nation’s foreign intelligence service. The intrusion came to light after a prominent cyber security firm, FireEye, learned it had been breached and alerted that foreign governments and major corporations were also compromised.
The company did not say who it suspected, though many experts believed; Russia was responsible given the level of skill involved. US authorities acknowledged that federal agencies were affected by the breach on Sunday, providing few details.
The Cyber security and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, said in an unusual directive that the widely used network software SolarWinds had been compromised and should be removed from any system using it. The national cyber security agencies of Britain and Ireland issued similar alerts.
SolarWinds is used by hundreds of thousands of organisations; around the world, including most Fortune 500 companies and multiple US federal agencies. The perpetrators were able to embed malware in a security update issued by the company, based in Austin, Texas. Once inside, they could impersonate system administrators and have total access to the infected networks, experts said.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said Monday that the Trump administration was working with CISA, US intelligence agencies, the FBI, and government departments by the intrusion to coordinate a response.