The White House on Thursday announced new economic sanctions against Russian officials and oligarchs for their role in alleged cyber attacks.
Russian state-sponsored hackers not only sought to meddle in 2016’s presidential election. They also tried to breach US industries, including the energy grid, in attacks that continue to this day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The administration “is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Mnuchin said.
According to a US technical advisory, the hacking attempts date back to at least since March 2016, and successfully infiltrated energy sector networks from small commercial facilities via spearphishing emails, which installed malware on victims’ computers. Hackers also targeted the nuclear, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing industries, according to the advisory, which gives a detailed rundown on the attacker’s tactics and tools.
Their goal: to conduct reconnaissance and collect information about the industrial control systems. Last September, the security firm Symantec detailed one of the attacks.
Last month, the US Justice Department indicted 13 Russia nationals and three Russian companies for exploiting social media in 2016 in a covert campaign to influence US voters. Thursday’s sanctions punishes the same individuals and groups named in that indictment, including Yevgeniy V. Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who reportedly has close ties to country’s president Vladimir Putin.
Thursday’s sanctions also punish six individuals and two Russian spy agencies, the Federal Security Service and Main Intelligence Directorate, for allegedly sponsoring the cyber attacks.
The Russian government is reportedly preparing to retaliate. “We have already started working on our reciprocal measures,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
The sanctions also punish Russia for its suspected involvement in the NotPetya ransomware outbreak, which infected computers across the world last year and resulted in billions in economic damage.