USA and United Kingdom blame Russian Federation for cyber hacks on internet routers worldwide

Russian hackers have been targeting millions of routers around the world.                  Aaron Robinson  CNET

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Homeland Security issued a joint alert warning of a global campaign.

This could be used be used to mount a future offensive, it warned.

The operation targeted government and private organizations, including even small businesses and residential homes, and also allowed the Russian-sponsored actors to go after "high-value targets", an official said.

The technical alert said the United States government had been receiving information that the cyber actors had been exploiting switches - named by the ACSC as "switches with Cisco Smart Install accessible from the internet, and routers or switches with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) enabled and exposed to the internet" - since 2015. The attack strategy let Russian Federation peer at the data passing through the compromised devices, whether that be business or intelligence-related.

US Homeland Security has directly condemned the Russian state for the attacks.

What no-one is quite sure of is whether this creates a deterrent a bit like mutually assured nuclear destruction in the Cold War. Martin said the attacks could be designed for spying, stealing intellectual property or possibly "prepositioning for use in times of heightened tension".

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"When we see malicious cyber-activity, whether Kremlin or other nation state actors, we are going to push back", said Mr Joyce. Ciaran Martin, CEO of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, called it "a very significant moment as we hold Russian Federation to account and we improve our cyber defenses at the same time".

According to the alert, systems that have been affected include Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE) enabled devices, Cisco Smart Install (SMI) enabled devices, and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) enabled network devices.

The joint warning stated stated that the main targets have been ISPs, firms running 'critical infrastructure, ' government departments and big companies.

The full alert contains indicators of compromise for the attacks, technical details on the tactics, techniques and procedures as well as contextual information regarding observation of the attacks. Further intelligence about the attacks had been added by "multiple" cyber-security organisations and companies, he added.

"The UK government will continue to work with the U.S., other global allies and industry partners to expose Russia's unacceptable cyber behaviour, so they are held accountable for their actions", Martin added.

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