US and UK blame Russia for attacks on internet traffic controls

The United States and United Kingdom Monday issued a joint alert blaming Russia for mounting global cyberattacks on devices and networks that control internet traffic, potentially affecting millions of machines.

The attacks on “network infrastructure devices” — routers, switches and firewalls — were meant to gain access to government and critical infrastructure targets.

“It is a tremendous weapon in the hands of an adversary,” said Rob Joyce, White House cybersecurity coordinator, in a call with the media.

U.S. and U.K. officials briefing reporters said the attacks could be used for espionage or intellectual property theft or for laying the groundwork for destructive attacks should tensions escalate. But they said they had no insight into the scope of how successful the attacks have been.

“Once you own the router, you own the traffic thats traversing the router,” said Jeanette Manfra, the Homeland Security Departments assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications.

The rare joint alert is evidence of “a significant moment in the transatlantic fight back against Russian aggression in cyberspace,” said Ciaran Martin, head of the British National Cyber Security Centre.

Joyce said the White House got involved “to give it the gravitas and attention of the whole of U.S. government.” He said the U.S. response could include a range of activities, such as a forthcoming report today detailing how to defend against the attack, and potentially including sanctions, indictments or offensive cyber retaliation.

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