US says Russian state hackers breached defense contractors


Russian-backed hackers have been targeting and compromising U.S. cleared defense contractors (CDCs) since at least January 2020 to gain access to and steal sensitive info that gives insight into U.S. defense and intelligence programs and capabilities.

CDCs are private entities with clearance from the Department of Defense (DoD) to access classified info to bid for contracts or support DoD programs.

They have access to information related to DoD and Intelligence Community programs from various areas, including:

  • Command, control, communications, and combat systems;
  • Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting;
  • Weapons and missile development;
  • Vehicle and aircraft design; and
  • Software development, data analytics, computers, and logistics. 

Since January 2020, Russian hacking groups have breached multiple CDC networks and, in some cases, have maintained persistence for at least six months, regularly exfiltrating hundreds of documents, emails, and other data.

“Compromised entities have included CDCs supporting the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Space Force, and DoD and Intelligence programs,” the FBI, NSA, and CISA revealed in a joint advisory published today.

“These continued intrusions have enabled the actors to acquire sensitive, unclassified information, as well as CDC-proprietary and export-controlled technology.

“By acquiring proprietary internal documents and email communications, adversaries may be able to adjust their own military plans and priorities, hasten technological development efforts, inform foreign policymakers of U.S. intentions, and target potential sources for recruitment.”

Russian APTs also target critical infrastructure

Last month, the three agencies also warned that Russian-backed hacking groups are targeting organizations from U.S. critical infrastructure sectors.

As the FBI, NSA, and CISA said in January, Russian APT groups — including APT29APT28, and the Sandworm Team — have used destructive malware to target industrial control systems (ICS) and operational technology (O.T.) networks belonging to critical infrastructure orgs worldwide.

In July 2021, the U.S. government also announced a reward of up to $10 million through its Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program for information on malicious cyber activities coordinated by state hackers targeting critical infrastructure sectors.

“NSA encourages all U.S. cleared defense contractors (CDC) — with or without evidence of compromise — to apply the mitigations in the advisory to reduce the risk of compromise by Russian state-sponsored cyber actors,” the NSA added today.

“While these mitigations are not intended to be all encompassing, they address common TTPs observed in these intrusions and will help to mitigate against common malicious activity.”