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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2215

U.S., UK issue warning over Russian hacks;
The war on Telegram commences

Edited by Ilan Berman and Margot Van Loon
May 25, 2018

April 16:

For the first time, American and British cyber defenders are teaming up to warn their respective publics about the extent of Russian cyber intrusions. The FBI and DHS have released a
joint Technical Alert with their counterparts at the British National Cyber Security Centre that publicly attributes recent attacks to the Russian government and explains the methods used to target critical cyber infrastructure and ISPs across Western public and private sectors.

Specifically, the Alert identifies Russia's use of spoofing attacks to "support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks, and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations." The warning, which was based on multiple reports from victims of Russia's malicious activity, contains guidance on how to recognize cyber compromise and what kind of strategies to adopt for effective protection. Leaders of all three government organizations emphasized the steadfast commitment of the two governments to collective defense in the fight against Russian cyber aggression, and promised that steps are being taken to address critical infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Western governments suspect Russia of sabotaging the investigation into last month's suspected chemical attacks in Syria.
According to Reuters, Kenneth Ward, the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), asserted in a closed-door session that the Russians visited the city of Douma to tamper with evidence from the attacks while using their military control of the town to deny access to OPCW inspectors. In turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov have both denied the allegations, and blamed Western air strikes for delaying an objective investigation.

April 17:

New investigative reporting has shed light on the violent demise of a successful businessman who fell afoul of the Russian government. Prior to his death in a St. Petersburg jail cell, Valery Pshenichny, an entrepreneur sometimes called the "Elon Musk" of Russia, faced embezzlement charges for defrauding the Russian Defense Ministry of $1.6 million on a submarine contract.
The Moscow Times relayed the graphic findings of the forensic investigation into Pshenichny's death, which included rape, electric shock burns, broken bones, and stab wounds. The findings have prompted Russian authorities to discard initial assertions that Pshenichny's death had been a suicide.

Russia's government is seeking to lure students studying abroad back to the Motherland.
Kommersant reports that ROSTRUDNICHESTVO, the Russian government agency tasked with maintaining contacts with Russians living abroad, has launched a new project dubbed "Highly Likely Welcome Back," which seeks to convince Russian students to return from countries that show an "unfriendly attitude" toward Russia. As part of the initiative, students who return under the program will receive assistance in restarting their education at Moscow State University (MGIMO) or get help securing a job in the Russian Far East. "The issue of the safety of our young children who study abroad is acute," one of the project leads has explained. "There are serious concerns that young Russians may suffer from provocations in countries that show unfriendly attitude towards our country."

Russia's state censor has begun efforts to block popular messaging app Telegram.
According to Reuters, the agency - ROSKOMNADZOR - has announced that it has commenced blocking IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google as part of an official bid to black out Telegram after the company refused to comply with a recent court order to provide access to encrypted messages on its system to Russian state security agencies.

April 18:

In the war of words between Russia and the United States, could a brief ceasefire be possible?
According to The Moscow Times and Bloomberg, inside sources confirm that President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Kremlin to scale back its anti-American rhetoric. Reportedly, the order reflects Putin's desire to give President Trump "another chance" to improve ties before either country can pass further sanctions or countermeasures.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program

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