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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Ransomware hackers conscripted in Russia?

18 January 2022

Ransomware has become a real problem for many Western businesses and organisations.

Gangs of ransomware hackers, often operating out of relatively lawless regions such as N. Korea, Russia and states of the former Soviet Union, have fleeced happless victims for hundreds of millions of dollars last year alone.

The USA has identified the REvil gang of ransomware cyber-thugs operating out of Russia but for a very long time, Russian authorities refused to do anything significant to reign in their criminal activities. Although the group claimed to have disbanded several times it was clear that at least a few of their number have remained active.

It came as a bit of a surprise therefore, that members of the gang were arrested by Russian authorities last week.

Russia's FSB told media that they had "dismantled" the gang and had several of its members now in custody.

Many commentators were left wondering exactly why, after all this time of inaction, Russian authorities had finally acted to bring them down.

Well I can't help but join the dots.

Maybe I'm wrong (happens all the time) but is it just coincidence that we saw this headline pop up in the media a day or two after the arrests?

Ukraine cyber-attack: Russia to blame for hack

Who better to recruit for nefarious deads against a neighbouring state that you wish to provoke into an armed conflict, than some very experienced cyber-hackers?

Just imagine how much leverage Russian authorities would have over this gang of hackers. What sort of deals were done to "overlook" crimes in return for doing a bit of dirty-work for the government?

This is of course total speculation on my part but I'm less of a believer in coincidence than I am of design these days.

Given the role that online services play in the crucial infrastructure of a nation, a cyber-attack is clearly a great way to weaken your enemy. Leaving them disoriented and with compromised security and communications makes it much easier to mount a physical attack.

Cyber-warfare is now a huge arm of most nations' offensive capability. Indeed, reports have recently been published which suggest that North Korea's hackers made off with almost US$400m in crypto last year alone. This must have gone a long way towards funding that rogue nation's ballistic missile programme.

Don't we live in "interesting times"?

So far 2022 is shaping up to be quite an exciting and tumultuous time. Volcanoes exploding on our back door (and a reminder that such things rarely happen in isolation), the threat of war in Ukraine, the inevitable arrival of Omicron in our community, etc, etc.

What will happen next?

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