Russian cyber spies will go on the attack – from across the world

After failing to explain its true intentions following its order last week to suspend anti-bulk data transfers, Russia has defiantly launched a new cyber surveillance operation in a bid to kill any dissent it…

Russian cyber spies will go on the attack – from across the world

After failing to explain its true intentions following its order last week to suspend anti-bulk data transfers, Russia has defiantly launched a new cyber surveillance operation in a bid to kill any dissent it can find.

The Russian government is keeping the details of its allegedly covert cyber-surveillance operation secret, but its position is backed by the international cybercrime treaty (ICS) which allows Moscow to act by warrantless extradition of “cyber criminals”, meaning its actions could amount to wide-ranging violations of human rights.

Russian claims that its “Special Hybrid Operations” against “extremist elements” in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere are a “proactive” counter-terrorism effort and not retaliation for US sanctions, have not been confirmed by its foreign ministry, according to Reuters.

The operation was launched to “target the organization and activities of external opponents of the Russian Federation”, reads a statement by the media watchdog Roskomnadzor. “We will continue conducting large-scale operations against those who intend to harm the interests of the Russian Federation through information terrorism.”

Since the US imposed sanctions on a number of Putin-allied politicians, associates and companies last week, Russia has blacklisted 173 people and 119 entities, including the US companies Cybex International, United to Operate Internationally and Cybex, in retaliation, the New York Times reported.

Following on the orders issued last Thursday, which included a ban on transferring “$10,000 or more in revenue”, Russia has instead launched its own “disciplinary procedure,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied the accusations levelled against his government and other lawmakers, claiming that the acts had been undertaken to protect national interests from ongoing attacks by “hidden-backed hostile spy states”.

The US has warned Moscow not to interfere in the upcoming mid-term elections by hacking or disseminating false propaganda.

But with foreign governments holding similar cyber-measures, the cyber-trade dispute could escalate.

Last year, the Russian cyberintelligence agency FSB set up the Stanina Cybercrime Network, or “Sixty-six grey-barren territory”, which was designed to “collect information for the exchange of information between the FSB and ministries of the Kremlin”, Sveta Grishchenko, who led the group, said in a 2016 report. The network was disbanded in April of this year.

With an internet censor running the show, as well as the S60 cybersecurity network, “anti-foreign activity” is still possible. Sergei Markov, deputy head of Russia’s State Duma committee on human rights, told the WSJ that “it was deemed necessary not to name names but rather to create a global network to combat global terrorism.”

With billions of internet users in these countries, businesses and governments, the ability to anonymise communications would result in the effective censoring of mass access to information, as well as eroding corporate privacy.

“Imagine there’s a person in Germany who is suspicious of a company located in San Francisco. He calls his local police chief, who then calls up his national cybercrime agency. He says they think it might be a bank for bitcoin laundering or drug trafficking. ‘Well, this guy’s account was blocked for a time and now it’s reactivated,’ the chief says. ‘Are you aware this is FSB work?’ says the security agency official, pointing at the registration number of the domain. ‘No, we’re not,’ the chief says. ‘We’re an ordinary tax guy. You know what they do?’”

Two days before the announcement, the Herald Sun reported Russia had started to review the legal underpinning of its cyber-surveillance, which it claims is needed to preserve national security.

The ICS, a treaty endorsed by former US president George Bush and Tony Blair, grants governments the right to seek extradition of individuals, which allows them to provide any documentation to a third country to be used in an extradition request. A variety of other countries, including Russia, have signed the treaty.

“Elements of the agreement are regarded as deeply concerning by human rights experts, who say they undermine basic freedoms,” Mark Green, chief executive of the International Bar Association, said in a statement.

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