23 Jan 2024, 09:24

Australian spies blame Russian for major cyber attack

SYDNEY, Jan 23, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Australia has identified the Russian
mastermind behind a crippling cyber attack, unmasking the 33-year-old hacker
for the first time on Tuesday and linking him to an international crime

Hackers infiltrated Australian private health insurer Medibank in November
2022, stealing sensitive medical records and leaking them on the dark web.

Among the 9.7 million customers caught up in the high-profile cyber attack --
one of the country's worst data breaches -- was Australian Prime Minister
Anthony Albanese.

Australian intelligence agencies have long suspected Russian hackers were
behind the breach, which has previously been tentatively linked to the REvil
ransomware collective.

Following an 18-month investigation, Australia has now taken the rare step of
naming the individual believed responsible: Russian citizen Aleksandr
Gennadievich Ermakov, who has also been hit with first-ever cyber sanctions.

"This is the first time an Australian government has identified a cyber
criminal and imposed cyber sanctions of this kind and it won't be the last,"
Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil told reporters.

"These people are cowards and they're scum bags," she added.

"They hide behind technology, and today the Australian government is saying
that when we put our minds to it, we'll unveil who you are, and we'll make
sure you are accountable."

The Medibank hackers started leaking private health records on the dark web
after the company, one of Australia's largest private health insurers,
refused to pay a multi-million dollar ransom.

The leaks were selected to cause maximum harm: targeting records related to
drug abuse, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy terminations.

"Medibank in my view was the single most devastating cyber attack we have
experienced as a nation," O'Neil said Tuesday.

"We all went through it, literally millions of people having personal data
about themselves, their family members, taken from them and cruelly placed
online for others to see."

- 'Hack the hackers' -

Australia beefed up its cyber security laws in the wake of the Medibank
attack, pledging that the country's intelligence agencies would proactively
"hack the hackers".

In a taunting and cryptic reply posted to the dark web, the hackers
responded: "We always keep our word."

Ermakov, who used the online aliases blade_runner and JimJones, would now be
targeted by a travel ban and strict financial sanctions, Foreign Minister
Penny Wong said.

"This will mean it's a criminal offence, punishable with up to 10 years
imprisonment, to provide assets to him -- or to use or deal with his assets,"
she told reporters.

Photos released by the Australian government showed Ermakov as a fresh-faced
young man with short dark hair and a wry smile.

REvil -- an amalgam of ransomware and evil -- was reportedly dismantled by
Russian authorities in 2022 after it extorted an $11 million ransom from JBS
Foods, a major food conglomerate.

The Australian government confirmed Ermakov was a member of the REvil

Monash University cyber crime expert Nigel Phair said proving who was behind
an attack was "one of the hardest things to do" in cyber security.

"This is unlikely to dissuade other internationally-based cyber criminals
from targeting Australian organisations or individuals, but is a step in the
right direction," he said.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said Australia's intelligence agencies had
tracked down Ermakov with the help of the National Security Agency in the
United States, and GCHQ in the United Kingdom.

"Ermakov doesn't have anonymity," he said.

"We have named him for the first time globally. And his identity is now on
display for every agency around the world."


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