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Russian spy agencies linked to Georgian cyber-attacks

Follow the bear prints

More circumstantial evidence has emerged linking the Russian authorities to cyber-attacks on Georgia that coincided with a ground war between the two countries in July and August last year.

Security researchers from Greylogic published a report on Friday which concluded Russia's Foreign Military Intelligence agency (the GRU) and Federal Security Service (the FSB), rather than patriotic hackers, were likely to have played a key role in co-ordinating and organising the attacks.

The Stopgeorgia.ru forum, which became a fulcrum for attacks of key Georgian websites last year, uses an ISP located a few doors down from GRU headquarters. Greylogic reckons the site was added as a front for state-backed cyber-attacks under the cover of cybercrime.

The StopGeorgia.ru forum was part of a bulletproofed network that relied on shell companies and false WHOIS data to (a) prevent its closure through Terms of Service violations, and (b) to mask the involvement of the Russian FSB/GRU. By mimicking the structure of the Russian Business Network, a cyber criminal enterprise, it creates plausible deniability that it is a Kremlin-funded Information Operation.

Greylogic's study concludes: "The available evidence supports a strong likelihood of GRU/FSB planning and direction at a high level while relying on Nashi intermediaries and the phenomenon of crowdsourcing to obfuscate their involvement and implement their strategy."

"Nashi" (translation: “Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement Ours!") is a youth group in Russia founded four years ago to counter anti-Russian and fascist tendencies in the country. The group is supposedly funded by Russian businessmen, but a pipeline from the Kremlin is suspected.

Long-standing rumours that Russia was behind cyber-attacks on neighbouring countries were recently fuelled when State Duma Deputy Sergei Markov (somewhat implausibly) claimed that one of his assistants was responsible for instigating cyber-attacks against Estonia in 2007. In a Spartacus-style move shortly after this, Konstantin Goloskokov, a "commissar" in Nashi, claimed he and other associates were responsible for the month-long cyber-assault on Estonia.

The Project Grey Goose Phase II report is a follow-up to an October report by the same group of security researchers on the Georgian cyber war. The latest report looks at cyberwarfare incidents beyond the sphere of the former Soviet republics to consider attacks in Gaza and politically-motivated assaults against the Eastern India Railway Web site. ®

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