PHOTO FILE: figures with computers and smartphones are visible in front of the words “Cyberattack”, binary codes and the Russian flag, in this illustration taken on February 15, 2022. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File Photo

March 29, 2022

Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian hackers are scanning energy companies’ systems and other critical infrastructure in the United States, and a state-sponsored break-in poses a “current” threat to U.S. national security, a senior FBI spokesman told lawmakers on Tuesday. .

“The threat from Russia in the criminal sense, in the sense of the nation state, is very, very real – and relevant,” said Brian Worndran, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber unit, during a hearing before the House of Representatives.

In the weeks since Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the White House and the Justice Department have warned U.S. intelligence companies that they believe Russia is taking the first steps toward possible cyberattacks.

Worndran told lawmakers that “cases of Russian scanning” of networks in the US energy sector have become more frequent recently, and said such activities are a “reconnaissance phase” by Russia to try to understand the company’s protection and whether it has vulnerabilities. can be used.

“This is an extremely important part of the overall attacks,” he said, adding later in his testimony that Russia was “one of the two most capable cyber rivals we face around the world” and a “formidable enemy.” .

Last year, long before Russia’s attack on Ukraine, US President Joe Biden openly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that certain critical infrastructure should be “inaccessible” to cyberattacks.

The warning concerned 16 different types of infrastructure – a clear reference to 16 sectors identified by the US Department of Homeland Security as critical, including telecommunications, healthcare, food and energy.

Since then, Worndran has told lawmakers he is aware of software companies, among others that have been attacked.

“There are trade-offs against some of these 16 critical infrastructure sectors,” he said. “I can’t say specifically to whom.”

(Report by Sarah N. Lynch; edited by Marguerite Choi)

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