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There's A New Cold War Brewing In Cyberspace

Hacker

Amid mounting criticism that the Trump administration is doing too little to punish Russia, the U.S. Treasury has imposed new sanctions on individuals and companies alleged to have worked aided and abetted Moscow’s intelligence services in conducting cyberattacks on the U.S.

Specifically, three Russian individuals and five companies have been sanctioned for using submarines to undermine U.S. cybersecurity, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The United States is engaged in an ongoing effort to counter malicious actors working at the behest of the Russian Federation and its military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities. The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Mnuchin said.  

A number of cyberattacks have been blamed on Russia, including last year’s NotPetya attack, which primarily targeted Ukraine in a destabilizing effort, but also hit the U.S. energy grid.

The Treasury Department is concerned at Russia’s “active” tracking of undersea communication cables, which carry most of the global telecommunications data.

According to the Treasury Department, one of the companies targeted with sanctions is controlled by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and has also provided “material and technological support” to the intelligence agency. Two others have provided support but were not listed as being controlled by the FSB.

Two other companies, along with three individuals were also listed as either being owned or controlled by the FSB, or acting for or on the FSB’s behalf. Related: The Double-Edged Sword Of Crypto Regulation

The sanctioned firms include:

• Digital Security, which is accused of working on a project to help increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities for the Russian Intelligence Services.

• ERPScan, which is owned or controlled by Digital Security.

• Embedi, which is also owned or controlled by Digital Security.

• Kvant Scientific Research Institute (Kvant), which is said to be owned or controlled by the FSB.

• Divetechnoservices, which the Treasury Department says has “procured a variety of underwater equipment and diving systems for Russian government agencies”, and which was awarded a $1.5-million contract for a submersible craft for the FSB in 2011.

These firms, plus three individuals, will see all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction blocked or frozen. The sanctions also mean that no American citizens may engage in any transactions with the sanctioned companies or individuals. At this time, it is not clear what, if any, U.S. assets may be connected to these companies or individuals.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in cyberattacks targeting American infrastructure, but this isn’t the first time a U.S. president has sanctioned Russian entities over cyberattacks. Obama sanctioned the FSB in late 2016 for the same, and earlier this year, Trump sanctioned a series of companies and individuals allegedly connected to cyberattacks dating back to March 2016.  

According to Russia’s RT.com news outlet, Moscow has “also dismissed allegations of Russian naval forces targeting western undersea cables as scaremongering”, describing “the perceived threat of Russia’s Navy cutting underwater cables” as a long-running “obsession” for which the West has “never presented any evidence”.

By Damir Kaletovic for Safehaven.com

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