Security Researcher Asserts Russian Role in Georgia Cyber-attacks

SecureWorks researcher Don Jackson bolsters the argument that the Russian government played a role in the cyber-attacks that broke out during its invasion of Georgia. Research by SecureWorks has uncovered a link between Russian state-run networks and the cyber-attacks that hit Georgia during the recent military clashes over the disputed territory of South Ossetia.

A security researcher claims to have uncovered evidence suggesting a link between the Russian government and the cyber-attacks launched against Georgia.

The cyber-attacks started as Georgian and Russian military units fought over the disputed territory of South Ossetia. The fighting started after Georgia sent troops into the breakaway region that it claims is part of its territory.

Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence at SecureWorks, said in an interview with eWEEK there may have been multiple forces pulling the digital strings behind the attacks. According to Jackson, incident responders in Georgia supplied logs showing traffic to and from bots on their own networks with command and control IP addresses that are in ranges that belong to state-operated companies for which no previous record of activity of any kind exists.

"We know that the Russian government controls those servers theoretically, if they have not been 'pwned' by somebody else," Jackson said.

According to SecureWorks, most of the changes in routing information that block traffic to Georgian IP address space were carried out by government-run Rostelecom and the Moscow-based Comstar network. Those networks were also the launch points for DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks and cache poisoning attempts targeting DNS servers for major Georgian networks, as were parts of Turkish networks controlled by members of the RBN, the company said.

"I can only say I see a strong correlation with the types and patterns of activity of DDoS and the strong, very suspicious timing of the attacks ... [it's] either one of the most coincidental mass cyber-attacks I've ever seen, or there's been some sort of cooperation on some level," Jackson said.

Other aspects of the attacks the company observed involving actors on both Russian state-run and RBN-controlled foreign networks include compromise of servers, multifactor DDoS attacks on network and application layers, and the hosting of spoofed Georgian Web pages with misinformation and propaganda.

SecureWorks' findings, if true, shed new light on the cyber-attacks that have made headlines in the past few days. Several researchers have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about who is responsible for the attack. In an e-mail exchange with eWEEK, noted security professional and author Gadi Evron said there are strong indications that the attacks were launched by amateurs.

"While [cyber-war] seems to be the current buzzword [and] is overblown over certain incidents, the risk of information warfare is real as has been seen before in targeted attacks for espionage purposes, and in the devastating infrastructure attack against Estonia," Evron wrote.