The U.S. Department of Justice has announced charges against four Russian government employees for launching cyber attacks by running a years-long campaign to hack thousands of computers and hundreds of companies in the global energy sector. The officials said; “Among the thousands of computers targeted in some 135 countries were machines at a Kansas nuclear power plant — whose business network was compromised — and at a Saudi petrochemical plant in 2017 where the hackers overrode safety controls.”
A two-phased years-long campaign of cyber attacks
The first indictment, from June 2021, charges Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, a computer programmer at the Russian Ministry of Defense, and two co-conspirators, of planning to hack industrial control systems. After their failed attempt to blow up the Saudi plant, the hackers attempted to hack the company’s computers that manage similar critical infrastructure entities in the U.S The second indictment, filed in August 2021, charges Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov and Marat Valeryevich Tyukov, with several attacks targeting the energy sector between 2012 and 2017.
In the first stage of their attacks – that took place between 2012 and 2014 – the hackers compromised the networks of industrial control device makers and software providers. While, In the second phase – 2014 to 2017 – it involves targeting more than 3,300 users at over 500 US and international organizations, including the U.S. government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in a statement; “Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world.”
The charges imposed against the four Russian government employees
Gladkikh is charged with one count of conspiracy to cause damage to an energy facility, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of attempt to cause damage to an energy facility, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Akulov, Gavrilov and Tyukov are charged with conspiracy to cause damage to the property of an energy facility and commit computer fraud and abuse, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Akulov and Gavrilov are also charged with other counts of wire fraud and computer fraud related to unlawfully obtaining information from computers and causing damage to them, which carry maximum sentences of five to twenty years in prison. Lastly, they are charged with three counts of aggravated identity theft, each of which carries a minimum sentence of two years.