Security & Fraud

How Russia Cozied Up to Top Hackers to Wage Cyberwarfare

Russia Recruits Hackers

Russia is armed and ready for cyberwar.

Over the years, the Russian military has strategically and stealthy recruited programmers — whether they be students, professionals or sometimes criminals — to join its ranks and create a team of elite computer hackers.

The country’s efforts, The New York Times reported, are part of a new doctrine implemented by the military to make preparing for cyberwarfare a top priority.

Senior defense official, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, published the Gerasimov Doctrine and stated that covert tactics performed in the shadows will become increasingly important.

Russian government recruiters have spent years scouting out individuals with expertise in programming by sending out ads on social media, promoting jobs to college students and professional coders, as well as openly seeking out talent in Russia’s criminal underworld.

Recruits typically cycle through military contracting companies and units called science squadrons, which are established on military bases throughout the country, NYT confirmed.

“If you graduated from college, if you are a technical specialist, if you are ready to use your knowledge, we give you an opportunity,” a video ad beckoned. It then stated that members of the science squadrons live in “comfortable accommodation,” displayed in the form of a furnished apartment.

But the country is looking far beyond the education system and existing workforce for recruits.

“There have been cases where cybercriminals are arrested but never ended up in prison,” Dmitri Alperovitch, cofounder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, explained.

Some of those incarcerated for cybercrimes have reported being able to get out of jail before trial in exchange for working for the government.

“It was an offer to cooperate,” Dmitry A. Artimovich, a physicist who was awaiting trial in jail for designing a computer program that spammed users, told NYT.

“Why else would you work for the government?” he added. “The salaries are tiny. But if you do something illegal and go to prison for eight or nine years, the F.S.B. can help you,” he said, using a Russian abbreviation for the country’s Federal Security Service.

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