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Four Russian employees charged in U.S. in hacking schemes that targeted global infrastructure

They sought to compromise thousands of computers in the global energy sector from 2012 to 2018, prosecutors say.

Federal prosecutors unsealed two indictments Thursday that charge four Russian government employees in two hacking conspiracies that targeted thousands of computers in the global energy sector from 2012 to 2018. 

The Justice Department said the cyberespionage and sabotage campaigns were aimed at hundreds of companies and organizations in as many as 135 countries. 

U.S. officials are warning businesses to brace for possible Russian cyberattacks in retaliation for U.S. actions against Russia over the Ukraine invasion.

An indictment in Washington, D.C., in June alleges efforts by Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh, an employee of the Russian Defense Ministry research institute, and co-conspirators to damage critical infrastructure outside the U.S. The actions caused two emergency shutdowns at a foreign targeted facility, prosecutors claim. Court records say the hackers subsequently tried to breach computers of a U.S. company that managed similar critical infrastructure entities in the U.S.

An indictment in Kansas in August, United States v. Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, et al., details allegations about a two-phase campaign by three Russian intelligence officers to compromise the computers of hundreds of entities in the energy sector worldwide. Access to such systems would have provided the Russian government with the ability to disrupt and damage computer systems at a time of its choosing, prosecutors said. The three officers were members of Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, court records say.

“Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday. “Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity, they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defenses and remain vigilant. Alongside our partners here at home and abroad, the Department of Justice is committed to exposing and holding accountable state-sponsored hackers who threaten our critical infrastructure with cyberattacks.” 

Deputy FBI Director Paul Abbate said the bureau is “laser-focused on countering the significant cyberthreat Russia poses to our critical infrastructure.”

None of the suspects are in custody.