Massive 7.5TB breach reveals secret Russian IT projects

A computer with data overlaid onto the Russian flag

Hackers breached the server of a major contractor working on behalf of the Russian intelligence service before stealing 7.5TB of sensitive data and sharing this freely with other hackers and journalists.

Attackers infiltrated the company network of SyTech on 13 July, according to BBC Russia, and began a process of copying data while deleting masses of it. Much of this included detailed information about sensitive government IT projects commissioned by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB).

There at least 20 non-public SyTech projects detailed in the trove of documents stolen, stretching back to 2009. These include Nautilus-S, in which Tor traffic is de-anonymised with the help of rogue Tor servers, and Mentor, which involves monitoring and searching emails that sit on servers belonging to Russian organisations.

Nadezhda, meanwhile, is dedicated to creating a programme that accumulates and visualises information about how the Russian portion of the internet is connected to the wider global web.

Following the hack, the homepage of the company's website displayed a comical yoba-face' image which the hackers installed to demonstrate they had breached SyTech's systems. Hacktivists and cyber criminals often leave such images as a calling card following a successful attack on an organisation's networks.

The attackers published screenshots of the stolen data on a Twitter account and shared the multi-TB trove of information with Digital Revolution, a similar group that breached another FSB contractor last year.

This second hacking collective describe themselves as "digital revolutionaries" and have a track record of infiltrating official systems in an effort to undermine the government. After being handed the most recent collection of documents, for example, Digital Revolution shared the entire trove with journalists.

Since activity peaked around a decade ago with organisations like Anonymous, hacktivism has not been as widespread a tool for political and social influence as it once was, in the West particularly.

The Syrian Electronic Army, for example, is among the most prominent groups in recent history and was formed in 2011 as a pro-Assad hacking group that launches cyber attacks against political opposition groups and media organisations.

The Russian state itself has been at the centre of several hacking storms, both as aggravator and victim, with the US, for example, accusing intelligence services of orchestrating hacks against the democratic process.

In May, meanwhile, sensitive data belonging to 2.25 million Russian citizens, including passport information, was found to be exposed online through misconfigured government servers. These included the details of high-ranking government officials.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.