Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Russian detained as agent studied US groups’ cyberdefenses

By Desmond Butler  /  AP, WASHINGTON

He sternly warned the students not to ignore the protocol.

Research published by Toronto University-based The Citizen Lab analyzing Russian hacking attempts has found that civil society groups ranked behind only governments as the most frequent targets. Most often, it appeared Russian spies were trying to determine who the organizations were working with in places of strategic interest, the research found.

“Russian security services view civil society groups as a threat and treat their local partners with great suspicion,” said John Scott-Railton, a cybersecurity researcher at Citizen Lab.

Reporters found no evidence that Butina passed any information from the university project to Moscow, but the work allowed her to contact likely Russian targets.

It is not clear why Butina’s work raised concerns for the two Internews programs in Ukraine, which has not been a focus of prosecutors’ case against her, but Ukraine has been a hotspot of US-Russian tensions, where the two countries vie for influence. The US runs multiple programs aimed at strengthening democracy and boosting pro-Western sentiment in Russia’s backyard and in parts of the world where Washington and Moscow are vying for influence. Often they are run by contractors or nonprofit groups. By penetrating the programs, the Russians could determine who the organizations are working with and learn details about their security measures.

Galperin said she had a conference call with Butina and the other students, but did not make the connection with the arrested Russian until reporters contacted her.

Galperin said the students asked general questions about the threat landscape, and that she passed along no sensitive information.

After the student group prepared a report for Internews, Butina continued her cyberpolicy studies. Soon after she finished her spring semester this year, US authorities charged her with trying to influence senior US politicians and infiltrate political organizations on behalf of the Russian government.

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