It is increasingly common for hackers and other cyber criminals to tout their abilities on social media, but this week a Russian hacking collective was a bit more brazen than usual. An alleged member of the hacking group known as “Killnet” shared a post on its Telegram page on Monday that claimed it had conducted a cyberattack on a law enforcement website belonging to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
The hacker, who was using the handle “RADIS,” claimed to be part of the “Killnet team” follow-up with another post that stated, “Glory to Russia and KILLNET.”
The type of attack was believed to be a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), which is a malicious attempt to disrupt normal traffic to a website. It typically involves multiple connected online devices, collectively known as a “botnet,” which are used to overwhelm a target website with fake traffic. According to reports, the FBI site was briefly unreachable.
The Bureau announced on Tuesday that it was addressing the cyber threat and working to resolve the issue.
It wasn’t just the FBI that was recently targeted by the Russian-based group. Last month, multiple airport websites, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and Midway International Airport, were also temporarily taken offline by the hacker collective.
In October, Killnet also claimed responsibility for taking down several U.S. state government websites, and in August, it took credit for cyberattacks against aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin.
Though it isn’t believed to have direct ties with the government in Moscow, Killnet has engaged in hacking efforts directed at countries that have openly opposed Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, as well as nations that have directly aided Kyiv.
What makes these attacks especially noteworthy is how Killnet may be so openly taking credit on social media.
“Killnet has a track record for performing DDoS attacks on US targets, although they were sometimes mocked for being ineffective,” explained Taylor Ellis, customer threat analyst at cybersecurity provider Horizon3ai. “Currently, no one is mocking KillNet, but rather paying more attention to Russian cyber threat actors (CTAs) and the message it is communicating across international cyber channels.”
It also highlights the need for cybersecurity due diligence, as these hackers are seemingly more successful in their recent efforts than the Kremlin’s ground forces have been in Ukraine.
“With the rise in successful cyber attacks against the United States government and its federal agencies, many are right to wonder whether the public sector’s approach to cybersecurity is in need of a serious change,” Ellis told ClearanceJobs.
These attacks could further serve as an example of how the U.S. and its allies are very involved in the fighting, even if not on the battlefield, or by choice.
“Many wish to believe that the war in Ukraine is dwindling, but Russian CTAs – such as KillNet – have no intention of losing the cyber war. This cyberattack on the FBI proves that the conflict in Ukraine is not slowing down but is rather picking up speed as Russian CTAs continue to attack government agencies around the world,” said Ellis.
A far more worrisome aspect of this attack is that it shows that foreign attackers have no fear of launching an attack against the FBI and other government agencies. For one, they know that there is little chance they’ll be held accountable for their crimes.
Given the political climate, Russia won’t be aiding any criminal investigation. The fact that one of the law enforcement agencies that is meant to help protect American interests could be so easily targeted, and in turn become a victim, should also be a wakeup call.
Technology analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics told ClearanceJob, “It shows that (Killnet) doesn’t care and that they are not afraid.”
This is an ominous portent for future attacks.
Yet, Ellis added that this attack shouldn’t be all that surprising, as the FBI’s website has long been out of date in terms of design and more importantly security.
“Only after 2016 did the FBI decide to modernize by adding a newly designed graphic interface while also stopping their news bulletins, which sometimes revealed too much,” Ellis continued. “Despite these highly needed changes, the Bureau, along with other federal institutions, are still susceptible to devastating web attacks.”