In punishing Russian hacks and election meddling, the Biden administration on Thursday revealed new details about Russian intelligence’s vast disinformation and cyber-operations, including the names of companies that allegedly help facilitate cyber-attacks and websites accused of spreading false claims to damage the U.S.
The information release is designed partly to damage Russian intelligence services by blowing the cover of its support network, including companies that provide essential services and, in one case, the location of a technology park near the Black Sea used by spies for Russian’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU.
“This is how you roll up people’s networks,” said James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You identify them, so that they have to rebuild their tradecraft and rebuild their cover. It’s cheap for us but can be very costly to them.”
The names of companies and individuals, including a deputy chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin, were officially released in relation to U.S. sanctions imposed Thursday, but the larger harm may come from being associated with Russia’s spy operations, experts say.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, a Russian cybersecurity company called Positive Technologies hosts large-scale conventions that are used as a recruiting pipeline for Russia’s intelligence agencies, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the GRU. While the U.S. didn’t identify the name of the conference, one annual event held by Positive Technologies — which names Societe Generale, UniCredit and Enel as clients on its website — is called “Positive Hack Days.” In 2019, it hosted 8,000 people, and participants competed to hack into cash machines and a Tesla car.
The disclosure about the company’s alleged links to Russian intelligence comes just after reports that it was considering an initial public offering, which Kommersant newspaper reported in March, citing an unidentified person familiar with the plan. The company earned 5.6 billion rubles ($73 million) in 2020 and was targeting a valuation of between $2 billion and $4 billion, the paper said.
Positive Technologies didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. also sanctioned ERA Technopolis, a research center and technology park located in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, which is near the Black Sea. U.S. officials alleged that ERA Technopolis “houses and supports” units of the GRU, which it said was responsible for offensive cyber and information operations.
The technology park had been publicly linked to the Russian Ministry of Defense, which claims that the facility combines scientific and educational functions. But the fact that it’s now known to house GRU units will likely be an inconvenience for an agency that thrives in secrecy.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied allegations of hacking, election meddling and spreading disinformation in the U.S.
It’s likely that many of the details about the intelligence agencies’ support networks were classified until recently, but Lewis said the decision to release them was a result of an internal U.S. government debate about how to impose stiff costs for what the U.S. calls “malign behavior.”
Those activities include aggressive efforts to influence the outcome of U.S. presidential elections in 2016 and 2020, the poisoning…