Dangerous Russian Hack-A-Thon

In the United States, hacking has become a growing area of concern for national security and political agendas.  One such event that seems to be supporting and pushing the problem is “Positive Hacks Days”. “Positive Hacks Day” is an annual computer security conference held in Moscow, which features a competition called “The Standoff”.  In the event, dozens of hackers work in teams to bring down a simulated metropolis by attacking its utilities and transportation systems. The cyber attack, although entirely simulated, is not that much different from an attack that recently occurred in Kiev, Ukraine.

The hack-a-thon has seen some big names participate.  The conference is one of the few times that indicted members of Russia’s so-called “Fancy Bear” hacking team have left noticeably public traces. It is thought that many of the individuals involved in the conference may been threats to the United States, primarily in terms of election meddling.  Two such names on that list include Anatoily Sergeyevich Kovalev and Pavel Vyacheslavovich Yershov.

Kovalev, who is listed with a known affiliation to Moscow State Technical University, has the same name as an individual charged in the election interference indictment.  In addition, six months prior to “Positive Hacks Day”, Mueller claims that Kovalev was working to deploy malware and conduct information about the infrastructure of the US election.  He is alleged to have sent more than 100 emails containing malware. Furthermore, he is alleged to have stolen more than 500,000 US voter records.

Yershov was also indicted by Mueller in the conspiracy for identify theft and money laundering.  He is believed to have configured Russia’s X-agent, an aggressive malware designed to transmit hacked files from machines to servers operated by the hackers.  The X-agent was used to penetrate Democrats in the most recent election and feed their private emails to Wikileaks for publication.

Throughout the years, the conference has developed substantially from its rather humble beginnings. Initially, it was a small corporate event with no more than 500 people in 2011.  Now, it entertains thousands of hardcore hackers and hobbyists.  One of the hackers who has earned the largest acclaim for the hack-a-thon is Alisa Andreevna Shevchenko, one of the few females that takes part in the event.  In the Critical Infrastructure Attack, an exercise before the full sabotage contest, Shevchenko was able to identify many unknown vulnerabilities for the vendor.  As a result, she won first place and a profile in Russia’s Forbes.

In recent months, Shevchenko has also been linked to the election meddling, as her company’s name appeared on the list of Russian entities which were sanctioned.  While others have not spoken out about their inclusion, Shevchenko spoke with Forbes reports.  In a statement, she said, “My company never worked with the government. It never had the necessary licenses to do so in the first place. And I personally tried to stay as far away as possible from anything remotely suspicious, as I’m naturally a cosmopolitan person, and an introverted single woman.”  To this day, US officials have not specifically said why they believe she is linked, but it is certainly possible due to her presence at the conference with Kovalev and Yershov.

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