US sanctions Russian institute in reference to harmful malware

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© Reuters. National flags of Russia and the USA fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow

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By Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on a Russian research institute linked to the development of a dangerous computer program that can cause catastrophic industrial damage, a move Russia has labeled illegitimate.

The US Treasury Department said the Russian government-sponsored Chemical and Mechanics Research Center – also known by the Russian acronym TsNIIKhM – was responsible for “building bespoke tools that enabled the attack” on an unidentified petrochemical facility in the Middle East in 2017.

The attack electrified the cybersecurity community when it was published by researchers earlier this year because – unlike typical digital intrusions that aimed to steal data or hold it as a ransom – it appeared to be aimed at causing physical damage to the facility itself, by deactivating the security system.

Nathan Brubaker, an analyst with cybersecurity firm FireEye (NASDAQ 🙂 who discovered the software in question, said the obvious intent made it uniquely dangerous, as disabling security systems in such a facility could have serious consequences, such as: B. a fire or an explosion.

“The acute nature of the threat makes it frightening,” said Brubaker. “Blowing things up and killing people – that’s terrifying.”

The Treasury Department announced last year that the attackers behind the malware were investigating and investigating at least 20 electricity companies in the US for vulnerabilities.

“We re-emphasize the illegitimacy of unilateral restrictions. Unlike the US, Russia does not conduct offensive cyber operations,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, on social media.

“We call on the United States to end the vicious practice of baseless accusations.”

US officials were in tears last month, filing a spate of charges against hackers in Russia, China and Iran, imposing sanctions and issuing multiple warnings of government-sponsored digital intrusion.

Experts see the activity as the United States warning hostile powers not to interfere in the November 3rd elections in less than two weeks.

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