America's extraordinary cyber threat against Russia

By Nick Whigham

Russian President Vladimir Putin says U.S. hacking scandal not in Russia's interests. Photo / AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin says U.S. hacking scandal not in Russia's interests. Photo / AP

The United States government promised retaliation against Russia for hacking into the e-mails of Democratic Party officials in an apparent bid to influence the presidential election. And according to one US military figure they have followed through with that threat - in a very big way.

According to an unnamed senior intelligence official with the US government, the Obama administration has penetrated Russia's electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin's command systems.

The purported hack means that critical parts of Russia's infrastructure are now vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the White House deem it necessary, reports NBC News which claims to have seen top secret documents describing the infiltration.

The hack could potentially allow the US to shut off the lights, or bring down the internet, across Russia.

In the past the US government has claimed state actors such as Russia and China have left hidden malware in the systems of critical infrastructure in the US in an effort to allow them to potentially carry out a future cyber attack.

If true, it is certain that the US would be doing the same.

In fact, it was the US government that gave the internet one of its most destructive viruses when it used a malicious virus known as Stuxnet to disrupt a uranium enrichment plant in Iran back in 2010.

The Stuxnet virus was a computer worm that targeted industrial control systems used to monitor and control large scale industrial facilities like power plants, dams, waste processing systems and similar operations.

It's release effectively ushered in the high stakes game of state-sponsored cyber warfare.

Last month US vice president Joe Biden gave a TV interview with NBC in which he claimed the US were prepared for a cyber attack on Russia saying the country had "the capacity to do it".

In comments that drew the ire of Vladimir Putin, Biden said the hypothetical attack would be about "sending a message" the Kremlin and "it will be at the time of our choosing. And under the circumstances that have the greatest impact."

There has been no shortage of US officials to convey such a threat.

Michael McFaul, who was the US ambassador to Russia until 2014, said: "The Russians are in an offensive mode and the US is working on strategies to respond to that, and at the highest levels."

Washington is convinced that Russia has been trying for months to disrupt the US election, targeting the Clinton campaign by leaking its emails to Wikileaks.

The US also believes independent Russian hackers were involved in trying to interfere with voter registration rolls and computer voting systems in several states.

Putin has publicly scoffed at claims he has authorised any election interference.

The Russians "want to sow as much confusion as possible and undermine our process," a senior Obama administration official told NBC last week.

"So this is to make sure that we have all the tools at our disposal and that we're prepared to respond to whatever it is that they do."

- news.com.au

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