Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Think Tanks Pounded by Cyber Attacks

August 2016 has been the month of hell for US think tanks.

First was the damning New York Times exposé that uncovered widespread pay-for-play at major US think tanks.  And now, think tank land has been hit with a major cyber attack.

Here is more from Defense One which broke the story:

Last week, one of the Russia-backed hacker groups that attacked Democratic computer networks also attacked several Russia-focused think tanks in Washington, D.C., Defense One has learned.
The perpetrator is the group called COZY BEAR, or APT29, one of the two groups that cybersecurity company CrowdStrike blamed for the DNC hack, according to founder Dmitri Alperovitch. CrowdStrike discovered the attack on the DNC and provides security for the think tanks.
Alperovitch said fewer than five organizations and 10 staffers researching Russia were hit by the “highly targeted operation.” He declined to detail which think tanks and researchers were hit, out of concern for his clients’ interests and to avoid revealing tools and techniques or other data to hackersCrowdStrike alerted the organizations immediately after the company detected the breaches and intruders were unable to exfiltrate any information, Alperovitch said.
Defense One reached out to several think tanks with programs in Russian research, one of which was the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS. “Last week we were under attack, but our small staff was very responsive. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss the details because it is under active investigation,” the H. Andrew Schwartz, CSIS Senior Vice President for External Relations, said in an email.
James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and director, strategic technologies program, at CSIS said, “It’s like a badge of honor — any respectable think tank has been hacked. The Russians just don’t get the idea of independent institutions, so they are looking for secret instructions from Obama. Another benefit is they can go to their bosses and show what they took to prove their worth as spies.”

Russia's RT suggests propaganda warfare.

Besides CSIS, other big US think tanks that have Russia programs or Russia researchers include:

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Brookings Institution
  • Atlantic Council
  • Hudson Institute

It is not a surprise that hackers are targeting think tanks.  Think Tank Watch noted back in June that hackers targeting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were also targeting think tanks. And over the years Think Tank Watch has documented the fact that nearly every major think tank has been hit by hackers.