As the electronic battlefields of tomorrow unfold, a little-known piece of sophisticated spyware has been hacking into government computers across Europe and the US in what is being described as the most complex cyber espionage programs to date.

Spyware

Experts think spyware is handiwork of Russians

Western intelligence sources believe the malware, which goes by the name Turla, is the handiwork of the Russian government, according to a Reuters report.  Based on tactics, technical indicators and the victims targeted, intelligence officials believe the computer virus is similar to that used in a 2008 massive breach on the U.S. military attributed to Russia, but such claims are not confirmed. The report cited experts saying Russian government-backed hackers have a reputation as being highly disciplined, adept at hiding their tracks, extremely effective at maintaining control of infected networks and more selective in choosing targets than their Chinese counterparts.

“It is sophisticated malware that’s linked to other Russian exploits, uses encryption and targets western governments.  It has Russian paw prints all over it,” Jim Lewis, a former U.S. foreign service officer, now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was quoted as saying.

Spyware threat raises the bar 

“The threat… really does raise the bar in terms of what potential targets, and the security community in general, have to do to keep ahead of cyber attacks,” Martin Sutherland, managing director of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, was quoted as saying.

News of the cyber spying episode came from a little known German anti-virus firm, G Data, that published a report on the virus, which it called Uroburos, which likely references a Greek symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail.

One security expert was quoted as saying the hackers “know that most people don’t have either the technical knowledge or the fortitude to win a battle with them. When they recognize that someone is onto them, they just go dormant.” A former Western intelligence official was quoted as saying. “They can draw on some very high grade programmers and engineers, including the many who work for organized criminal groups, but also function as privateers.”

Russia’s Federal Security Bureau declined comment as did officials at the Pentagon and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.