The Czech Republic has suffered a massive breach at the hands of hackers. According to the government, the cyberattack was extremely well coordinated and was likely state-sponsored. Reports suggest that the security breach has affected dozens of state officials. The Czech foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, whose emails were also penetrated – has declared the attack highly “sophisticated.” Comparisons have been drawn between these latest government hacks and those suffered by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the US. This has led some people to point the finger at the Kremlin.
The hack comes amid news this week that four officials have been arrested for treason in Russia. The arrests have been confirmed by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian defense lawyer who specializes in treason cases. Those arrested include Ruslan Stoyanov, an executive at Kaspersky Lab: a highly renowned cybersecurity firm from Moscow. The men are believed to have been arrested for involvement in whistleblowing information concerning Russia’s involvement in hacking the US.
High-profile Russian Arrests
Others arrested for their involvement include three officers who work for Information Security Center (TsIB) of the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. According to Novaya Gazeta (a Russian opposition newspaper), the head of the FSB’s TsIB, Sergei Mikhailov, is suspected of providing information about alleged Russian cyberattacks to US firm ThreatConnect.
The arrests (that are believed to have occurred back in December) are the first evidence of possible turmoil within Russia concerning the US hacks. However, officials claim that Kaspersky Lab’s Stoyanov has been arrested for something that occurred before he went to work for the high-profile security firm back in 2012. As such, the arrests may yet be unrelated to the DNC case.
No Evidence Yet
So far it is not known if the Czech government has any reason to suspect Fancy Bear (the hacking group that is often associated with Putin’s government). What is known is that the breach was first noticed by cyber experts at the Czech foreign ministry. Those experts raised the alarm, leading officials to update passwords immediately, but not before data was lost.
Although the country’s foreign minister has not officially pointed the finger at Russia, government sources wishing to remain anonymous have suggested that the finger has been pointed. Despite Zaorálek’s claims that no classified information was stolen, rumors are circulating that some of the correspondences may involve foreign relations with Nato and European allies. Speaking at a news conference called after a news site revealed the hack, Zaorálek said the following:
“When I discussed this with the best experts that we have here, they told me that the character of the attack was such that the attack was very sophisticated, that it must have been, according to them, conducted by some foreign state, from the outside.
“They also told me that the way the attack was done very much resembles the character of attacks against the system of the Democratic party in the United States.”
According to a Czech website that specializes in investigative journalism, Neovlivni.cz, “thousands of files were downloaded” from the email accounts of state officials. The site claims it is the nation’s “biggest security scandal of recent years.” In addition, a cyber expert from a think tank based in Prague called European Values has drawn comparisons between the new hack and a recent one that occurred in Poland. Vlado Bizik feels that, “the Polish hack was perpetrated by a hard-to-detect Trojan.” He believes the high level of technical know-how points to a state-sponsored attack:
“Such sophisticated programs are usually sponsored by state actors and Russia is the one which has the most to gain. I’m quite sure a lot of damage has already been done. They say no classified information was compromised because that was only on the internal system but we don’t know what was being shared outside that system.”
For now, it remains to be seen if any real evidence is uncovered to demonstrate Russian involvement, or whether the recent high-profile arrests – which have caused a huge stir in the Moscow media – turn out to have anything to do with Russia’s alleged involvement in hacking the US elections.
Tug of War
What is interesting is that a man called Yevgeniy Nikulin is currently being held in a prison in the Czech Republic on hacking charges. That Russian hacker is accused by the US of hacking Formspring, LinkedIn, and Dropbox, and faces extradition charges. However, Russia is also attempting to have Nikulin extradited back home, apparently to face other charges.
Under the circumstances, one can’t help wondering whether whatever Russia may have hacked from Czech officials could be used as leverage to get Nikulin extradited to Russia, rather than the US. If that is the case, one can’t help also wondering: what might Nikulin know that Russia doesn’t want to slip out of his mouth?
Opinions are the writer’s own.