Monday, 7 December 2009

Is Russia behind the Climategate hackers?

Tony Halpin in Moscow

The Russian connection to the controversy over the leaked e-mails raises suspicions of a state-sanctioned attempt to discredit the Copenhagen summit involving secret service espionage. But it could as easily have been the work of freelance hackers hired by climate-change sceptics.
Hackers for hire are a common phenomenon in Russia, where programming skills are high and many under-employed computer experts are eager to make money. A shadowy organisation called the Russian Business Network is notorious as a provider of internet services for global cyber-crime.
Unscrupulous businesses hire hackers to attack the websites of rivals, while criminal gangs make use of their skills in credit card fraud and identity theft.
A third possibility is that disgruntled or mischievous students involved in the climate-change debate accessed the servers after a suggestion that the files hacked from the University of East Anglia had been uploaded from a server in Tomsk. The formerly closed Siberian city is now one of Russia’s leading centres for studying climate change and hosted an international conference on the subject last year for young scientists.

Tomsk students were involved in an attack on a website sympathetic to Chechen militants in 2002 that drew praise from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
The Kremlin was blamed when government websites in Estonia and Georgia were crippled by so-called distributed-denial-of- service attacks launched by computer hackers.
Security experts in Russia say that the FSB routinely makes use of “hacker-patriots” when it wants to break into computer systems or damage websites belonging to groups critical of the state. This allows it to deny the involvement of its own computer experts at the FSB’s Centre for Information Security.