Experts: Georgian cyberattacks suggest Russian involvement

Speed, sophistication of August attacks point to likely government link

The hackers who launched cyberattacks against the former Soviet republic of Georgia two months ago probably had links to the Russian government, even though no hard evidence has been uncovered of official involvement, a report by an all-volunteer group of experts said Friday.

"Just because there was no smoking gun doesn't mean there's no connection," said Jeff Carr, the principal investigator of Project Grey Goose, a group of around 15 computer security, technology and intelligence experts that investigated the August attacks against Georgia. "There probably is a connection" between the hackers and the Russian government, said Carr, "and one of the reasons why I say that is what I've been saying all along. The military invasion was on [August 8], and within 24 hours, there was one well-formed group with target lists and a Web site and members.

"I can't imagine that this came together sporadically," he said. "I don't think that a disorganized group can coalesce in 24 hours with its own processes in place. That just doesn't make sense."

Project Grey Goose started its probe with a Russian hacker forum, Xakep.ru, which in turn led investigators to a password-protected Web site, StopGeorgia.ru. Although the group declined to get specific about how it obtained access to the latter, the experts were able to find correlations between the attacks on Georgia's Internet servers and the discussions on Xakep.ru and the postings on StopGeorgia.ru.

Two months ago, shortly after Russia and Georgia military forces clashed over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia's governmental Web sites were knocked offline by digital attacks. Hackers, perhaps some of the cybercriminals who had links to the notorious Russian Business Network, were initially suspected, although within days some security researchers were blaming a loosely-organized "militia" of Russian hackers for the continuing attacks.

Project Grey Goose had its own take on how the hackers were organized. According to Carr and the group's report, the hierarchy was on a leader-follower, or journeyman-apprentice, model. A smaller number of "leaders" provided the hacking tools, called out application vulnerabilities and named targets. The "followers," although novice hackers, carried out the actual attacks.

There was little sign of a militia organization, where members were recruited. "There was more of a top-down relationship," said Carr. "At the very top, there was probably some channel of communication [to the Russian government], but from there it was self-organized and very informal."

Carr said it was unreasonable to think that, if the Russian government was not directly involved, it had no hand in the attacks. "The reasonable conclusion is that [the Russian government] see this as a convenience, and uses it as a way to distance itself from the hackers while at the time having a relationship with them," he said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hackers

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

Bitdefender’s best-in-class security solutions have been awarded Product of the Year. Get cybersecurity that 500 MILLION users already have and trust!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?