In this episode of the podcast (#206): with movement towards passage of a federal data privacy law stronger than ever, we invite two experts in to the Security Ledger studio to talk about what that might mean for U.S. residents and businesses.
Data theft and misuse has been an acute problem in the United States for years. And, despite the passage of time, little progress has been made in addressing it. Just this week, for example, SITA, an IT provider for the world’s leading airlines said that a breach had exposed data on potentially millions of travelers – just the latest in a steady drumbeat of breach and hacking revelations affecting nearly every industry.
In the E.U. the rash of massive data breaches from retail firms, data brokers and more led to the passage of GDPR – the world’s first, comprehensive data privacy regime. In the years since then, other nations have followed suit.
But in the U.S., despite the passage of a hodgepodge of state data privacy laws, no comprehensive federal law exists. That means there is still no clear federal framework covers critical issues such as data ownership, the disclosure of data breaches, private rights of action to sue negligent firms and so on.
Changes In D.C. Bring Data Privacy Into Focus
But that may be about to change. In a closely divided Washington D.C. data privacy is the rare issue that has bipartisan support. And now, with Democrats in control of Congress and the Whitehouse, the push is on to pass pro-consumer privacy legislation into law.
The DOJ indicted a Russian national for his role in “Project Lakhta,” a campaign to undermine the U.S. election…and mine some cryptocurrency along the way. It is the latest evidence of Russia’s willingness to use cyber criminals to conduct state-sponsored espionage.
A global pandemic, mass social unrest, economic crisis, and a divisive presidential election: there is no better time for Russia to be chumming the waters for political mayhem. And, if a newly released indictment is any indication, that’s exactly what experts say is happening.
With a little over fifty days until election day, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday charged Artem Mikhaylovich Lifshits, a Russian national, for his alleged role in a conspiracy to use the stolen identities of U.S. persons to open fraudulent accounts at banking and cryptocurrency exchanges.
Lifshits was a part of “Project Lakhta,” a Russia-based campaign of political and electoral interference operations that dates to 2014. The project encompasses a range of activities including the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which gained notoriety for disinformation campaigns around the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Project Lakhta Endures
According to the court document, Project Lakhta’s stated goal is to “disrupt the democratic process and spread distrust towards candidates for political office and the political system in genera disrupt the democratic process and spread distrust towards candidates for political office and the political system in general.”
Lifshits worked as a manager of The Translator Department, which directed Project Lakhta’s influence operations – operations that are still ongoing, according to G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“This case demonstrates that federal law enforcement will work aggressively to investigate and hold accountable cyber criminals located in Russia and other countries, which serve as safe-havens for this type of criminal activity,” Terwilliger said in a statement.
“Lifshits participated in this fraud in order to further Project Lakhta’s malign influence goals and for his own personal enrichment,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement.
Lifshits is just the latest Russian national indicted for crimes linked to foreign interference in U.S. domestic politics. Thirteen members of the Internet Research Agency were indicted in 2018 for influence campaigns as part of Robert Meuller’s probe into Russian activities in the 2016 election. Given Russia doesn’t extradite its citizens to the US, legal maneuvers do little to stamp out the work of hackers like Lifshits, a 27-year-old living in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Russia Taps Hackers-for-Hire
Lifshits’ mixture of financial fraud and political influence allegations are characteristic of Russian cyber operations, the authorities said.
“This case provides a clear illustration of how these malicious actors fund their covert foreign influence activities and Russia’s status as a safe-haven for cyber criminals who enrich themselves at others expense,” said Assistant AG Demers.
Earlier this year, Facebook identified Russian campaigns linked to cyber criminal groups in Nigeria and Ghana. Within Russia, robust black markets for info-ops exist in which operators are driven by financial incentives, according to research by firm Recorded Future.
The issue expands beyond Russia. Even beyond the “big-four” (Russia, China, Iran, North Korea), nations in the Middle East, Asia, and South America are showing evidence that hacker-for-hire groups are on the rise.
While attribution of these campaigns to electoral outcomes is difficult if not impossible, Project Lakhta’s work demands to be taken seriously. Microsoft warned last week that China and Iran are working to move the needle on elections as well.