Massive hack of US systems likely originated in Russia: Security agencies

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A SolarWinds sign is seen outside its headquarters in Austin, Texas, the US, on December 18, 2020. (File photo by Reuters)

The United States' top national security agencies have accused Russia of likely being behind an alleged massive hacking campaign against America, believed to be the biggest cyber-attack against the US in years.

Four US agencies, namely the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the National Security Agency (NSA), issued a statement on Tuesday, alleging that the cyber-attack had been "likely Russian in origin."

The Pentagon and State Department were among several major government agencies and private sector companies that were affected by what was alleged to be a "significant hacking campaign" in December last year, the US government said at the time.

The spy agencies said that their investigation into the attack "indicates that an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor, likely Russian in origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks."

"At this time, we believe this was, and continues to be, an intelligence gathering effort," said the agencies. "We are taking all necessary steps to understand the full scope of this campaign and respond accordingly."

Three weeks after the alleged cyber-attack was confirmed by the US government, the scope of the breaches and the extent of the affected targets still remain undisclosed.

A former chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, Dmitri Alperovitch, said that, "It's highly unlikely at this stage of the investigation they can actually be certain that there are only 10 agencies impacted."

The agencies have acknowledged that the alleged hack operation is "ongoing."

SolarWinds Corp, which was the key stepping-stone used by the purported hackers, said up to 18,000 of its customers had downloaded a compromised software update that allowed hackers to spy unnoticed on businesses and agencies for almost nine months.

At the time of the hack, these agencies immediately pointed the finger at Russia, but Moscow said it had "nothing to do with" the hacking.

President Donald Trump, who said the attacks had been exaggerated by "Fake News Media,” accused China of the hacking.

"Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens," Trump tweeted about the hack last month.

He said that the media were, "for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!)"

But his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the then-Attorney General Bill Barr both accused Russia of the cyber-attack.

In response to the latest statement, Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that he hoped "to see something more definitive."

"It's unfortunate that it has taken over three weeks after the revelation of an intrusion this significant for this administration to finally issue a tentative attribution," said Warner.

The alleged hacking came despite the US installation of defensive sensors all around the country to deter such raids.

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