According to the Justice Department, the FBI broke a 20-year-old sophisticated malware network used by the Russian government to harvest sensitive information from hundreds of infected devices in 50 nations.

The FBI claims that their court-authorized neutralization of Kremlin-backed hackers in the United States was successful, thanks to a digital tool dubbed “Perseus,” which turned the malware’s capabilities against itself and drove the software to self-destruct on infected machines.

According to officials, the malicious software known as “Snake” operated as a clandestine conduit via which Russia’s intelligence operations acquired and communicated data from a targeted victim base that included NATO member governments, journalists, and financial and technology sectors. Investigators claim that the Snake malware has been used since 2004 by Turla, a branch of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), to quietly exfiltrate materials of importance to the Russian government and avoid detection.

“The FSB has used Snake in many operations, and the FSB has demonstrated the value it assigns to Snake by making numerous adjustments and revisions to keep it viable after repeated public disclosures and other mitigations,” according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.

Snake was a “premier espionage tool” for the Russian government, according to senior FBI sources, since it allowed its users to transport stolen information via “hop points” across the world on other infected machines, providing a completely undetectable highway for sensitive foreign documents. According to officials, it was operating until the operation was completed on Monday.

After a decade of working with the private sector and victims, senior FBI officials expect the international takedown coordinated with foreign partners to put an end to Russia’s “very consequential campaign.” Operation Medusa, according to US authorities, disrupted “a significant number of virtual infrastructures” used by the FSB and Turla to distribute the Snake malware. The neutralizing steps this week may have a “cascading effect” on other malicious software systems employed by the Russian government, making reimplementing Snake harder, according to officials.

The FBI is collaborating with allies around the world to keep Snake’s international functionality hampered. On Tuesday, intelligence and cybersecurity agencies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom released a combined advisory explaining Snake’s technical capabilities and how to repair infected machines.

“The Justice Department will use every weapon in our arsenal to combat Russia’s malicious cyber activity,” Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen said in a statement Tuesday. “This includes neutralizing malware through high-tech operations, making [innovative] use of legal authorities, and working with international allies and private sector partners to amplify our collective impact.”

Senior Justice Department officials underlined the importance of victims of the Snake malware cooperating with authorities and staying up to date on system upgrades and fixes.


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