Russian hackers have reportedly targeted three nuclear research laboratories in the US, internet records reviewed by Reuters and five cybersecurity experts have revealed. The hacking team known as Cold River, reportedly made the attacks between August and September, targeting Brookhaven (BNL), Argonne (ANL) and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories (LLNL).
Internet records showed that the hackers created fake login pages for the institutions and emailed nuclear scientists to try and get them to reveal their passwords.
Hackers frequently use email accounts and domain names that appear similar to legitimate service providers, like “goo-link.online” and “online365-office.com,” which look like the addresses of firms such as Google or Microsoft.
While Reuters did not manage to determine the reason why the labs were targeted or if the attempted infiltration proved successful, the news agency was told that the same hacking group was also able to get hold of emails belonging to the former head of the UK’s MI6 spy agency, later leaking them to the public.
It came amid repeated threats of nuclear warfare from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who put his nuclear units on “high alert” as the dictator warned he would not hesitate to press the red button as tensions with the West soared amid his brutal war in Ukraine.
Cold River has also ramped up its hacking campaign against Kyiv’s Western during the Russian invasion of its neighbouring county, cyber security researchers and Western government officials have warned.
The hacking group first caught the attention of intelligence professionals after it targeted Britain’s Foreign Office in 2016. Since then, it has been involved in many other high-profile hacking attempts over the years, interviews with nine cybersecurity firms revealed.
The group is said to be “involved in directly supporting Kremlin information operations”, according to cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. Last year, it reportedly leaked emails from the former chief of MI6, and it has also allegedly targeted non-government organisations investigating war crimes.
The digital campaign is said to have come around the time that the UN commission accused Russian forces of committing war crimes and human rights violations early on in the Ukraine invasion.
Back in October, Russian hackers were accused of committing a cyber attack on multiple airports in the US airports, including New York’s LaGuardia and Chicago O’Hare.
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Pro-Kremlin hacking group Killnet had listed multiple US airports as targets, according to CNN. The hacking squad also claimed it was responsible for hacking US Government websites a week earlier and was accused of sending a US Congress website offline back in July.
And last month, the group claimed it infiltrated the FBI in a massive cyber-attack on the US security agency. The pro-Kremlin organisation reportedly posted online claiming to have stolen the personal data of more than 10,000 US federal agents.
Last month, Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told Russian media that the chance of a clash between the US and Russia was “high”. He told Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency that Washington needed time “to realise the futility of its policy towards Moscow”.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin also accused the US of waging a proxy war against Russia by supplying Ukraine with a huge package of heavy weapons.
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Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a US support package, which included the lethal Patriot missile defence system, was “not conducive to a speedy settlement”.
And despite a 36-hour ceasefire in the conflict to mark Orthodox Christmas, US President Joe Biden did not soften up on his stance towards Moscow.
He said: I’m reluctant to respond (to) anything Putin says. I found it interesting. He was ready to bomb hospitals and nurseries and churches on the 25th and New Year.”
BNL declined to comment on the story, while LLNL did not respond to a request. An ANL spokesperson referred questions to the US Department of Energy, which also declined to comment.