Russia Intel Chief Suggests US, UK Behind SolarWinds Hack

  • US intelligence agencies suspect Russia is behind the SolarWinds hack on federal agencies last year.
  • But on Monday, Russia’s head of foreign intelligence suggested the UK and US itself might have been behind it.
  • Sergei Naryshkin didn’t give evidence or explain why the US would hack its own agencies.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR) suggested without evidence that the US and UK were actually behind last year’s SolarWinds hack, which compromised US government agencies and major companies for months.

In January, US intelligence agencies said that the cyberattack was likely Russian in origin, and President Joe Biden’s administration in April imposed new sanctions on Russia, citing the hack as a reason. Russia has denied any involvement in the hack.

Speaking to the BBC, SVR chief Sergei Naryshkin repeated the denial, saying: “These claims are like a bad crime novel.”

Instead, he suggested that a US-UK partnership was capable of carrying out the attack, citing 2013 reporting based on the leaks made by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden

That year, The Guardian published details of secret documents outlining how the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ collaborated with tech companies to insert secret vulnerabilities into encryption software. This gave them the ability to crack much of the encryption used for personal data such as emails and online transactions, the report said.

The revelation caused international scandal, prompting then-President Barack Obama to say that the NSA was not “rifling through” ordinary people’s emails, as The Guardian reported at the time

Speaking of the SolarWinds hack, Naryshkin told the BBC: “I don’t want to assert that this cyberattack was carried out by a US agency, but the tactics are similar.” He did not elaborate on how or why the US would hack into its own agencies.

Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012.


Naryshkin said that all the accusations made against Russian intelligence agencies — “cyber attacks, poisonings, hacks, interference in elections” — were “absurd” and “pathetic.”

Russia has been accused of an array of intelligence-led attacks on foreign soil in recent years, from the 2018 poisoning of the former agent Sergei Skripal in England to attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election

“Regarding these accusations that have been leveled against us publicly … Russia is not involved,” Naryshkin said, echoing past denials from Russian officials.

Experts are still unraveling the impact of the SolarWinds hack and may never get a full assessment, as Insider’s Kelsey Vlamis reported.

The software firm, used by hundreds of companies and top government agencies, was targeted by hackers who inserted malicious code into its systems. Any client who updated their software between March and June ended up with a backdoor into their system, which hackers could exploit. 

The FBI, NSA, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Director of National Intelligence said in a joint January statement that the hack was likely intelligence-related when it pointed the finger at Russia. 

“An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor, likely Russian in origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks,” the agencies said.

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