Cyberattacks could be used to fund sanction-hit Russia’s war machine 

In a recent blog, the former head of Britain’s cyber security agency, Professor Ciaran Martin, said Russia was home to the “world’s largest concentration of cyber criminals”.

Quoting industry estimates, he said nearly three-quarters of the exponentially rising revenue from ransomware in 2021 went to cyber gangs in Russia.

Prof Martin, who hails from Omagh, Co Tyrone, said the economic and social impacts of Russia-based ransomware attacks are beyond what had been experienced before and “expose a soft underbelly” of vulnerability for disruption across the West.

He gave two examples. In the US, a criminal operation against the network of Colonial Pipeline caused the company to switch off the transportation of fuel to the eastern United States, causing major shortages at gas stations.

A professor at Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University, Mr Martin cited a second case: “Worse, an attack by the so-called Conti ransomware group shut down the administrative body in Ireland charged with managing the national healthcare system with hugely disruptive consequences for cancer, prenatal and other critical health treatments.” 

The former head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, part of the signals intelligence agency GCHQ, said the Conti group recently published a statement threatening retaliation against countries that support Ukraine and “pledged loyalty to Mother Russia”.

He said this group suffered a serious internal security breach, seemingly from a pro-Ukrainian worker.

“Their statement is an unusually obvious glimpse into the strange but largely symbiotic relationship between the Russian state and organised cyber-criminality,” he said.

In the context of the war on Ukraine, Prof Martin said: 

A cornered Putin may not just ease up on the criminals but encourage them to wreak more havoc on the West. 

So, for both of those reasons, organisations like CISA [US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] and the National Cyber Security Centre in the UK warn not of any specific threats, but of a more general higher level of risk.” 

Prof Martin cited the work of a leading US cyber expert: “CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri…