Russian President Vladimir Putin won re-election by a wide margin Sunday, strengthening his hand amid an escalating confrontation with the West.
Having been 18 years in power, Putin has secured an additional six-year term at a time of sharply deteriorating relations with Western adversaries, who accuse him of a variety of cyber crimes including targeting American critical infrastructure.
The WSJ said: "The result was in little doubt, given that the Kremlin has steadily tightened its grip over the main levers of power in Russia, including media and law enforcement—both of which the government uses to promote the president and sideline opponents."
Blame Russia Is Getting Old, but..
Yes, "Blame Russia" is getting old, specifically related to election interference. It's easy to blame Putin for all your woes, in any western country. But normally we are not discussing politics in this blog, despite the fact that black propaganda and "worldwide ambitions" are a time-honored Russian tradition. Sometimes though, you cannot escape looking at Geo-politics to explain some things you run into that are going to be there for another six years.
First, as a point of reference—if you do not know history you are bound to repeat it—Stalin, the Soviet Union's dictator for three decades until 1953, had one-sixth of the world’s land mass under its control, with added satellite states in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia. Next, there were Communist Parties in many countries under their direct control. When Stalin gave instructions to them, they followed his orders.
We are not discussing religion in this blog either, but again, Geo-politics is very often major religions clashing with each other.
Stephen Kotkin, Russia scholar at Printeton said in the WSJ: “The way you have to begin with this is with Russia’s place in the world. How do you get a figure like Stalin or Putin in the first place?” The answer lies in Russia’s aspiration “to have a special mission in the world—something that most people attribute to its Byzantine heritage.” Russia, in Russian eyes, is “not a regular country, it’s a providential power that’s ordained by God.”
Compared to Stalin though, Putin is a dictatorial lightweight. “We wouldn’t want to equate Putin with Stalin,” Mr. Kotkin says. The “capacities of the Russian state today, like the Soviet state before, are not always of the first rank.” They’re economically modest and technologically mediocre, so they “look for ways to compensate,” and subversion of competitors is an obvious, low-cost strategy. This is where asymmetrical tactics come in.
We're talking a low-grade cold cyberwar with IT in the front lines
“Russia’s grand strategy,” says Mr. Kotkin, “is Western collapse. Just wait it out. If the European Union breaks up, if the U.S. withdraws into itself and gives up all of its alliances around the world, Russia has many fewer problems, and its relative-power gap can narrow substantially.”
Mr. Putin did not “hijack the U.S. election,” Mr. Kotkin says. “He hijacked American public discourse.” Moscow conducted an intelligence operation to discredit Hillary Clinton and U.S. democracy by obtaining compromising material, “of which there was plenty.” Putin also allows Eastern European criminal hacker groups to harass western organizations in a variety of ways, including ransomware extortion.
Putin is no longer the referee over competing commercial interests, but instead, the leader of a kleptocracy which controls all the Russian power and wealth. This gang of oligarchs faction needs its ex-KGB protector to stick around so it can stay rich—and stay alive.
Prepare for another six years of constant attacks on your networks.
The long and short of it is that organized crime in Russia is being encouraged to operate, and has moved into cybercrime in a massive way, weapons-grade ransomware families being a good example. Now and then the cyber mafias are used by Putin as a resource to harass countries that get into his way. The same is more or less the case in countries like the Ukraine, where cybercrime also has become a measurable percentage of their gross domestic product.
Since they are thousands of miles removed, the major ways these bad guys can penetrate your systems are limited:
- Badly configured servers and workstations
- Known and unknown vulnerabilities in software
- Social engineering
That's why stepping users through effective security awareness training is such an important part of your defense-in-depth. Find out how affordable this is for your organization now and be pleasantly surprised.