A new wave of Russian hacker attacks

Written by Staff Writer by David Hellier, CNN

The Virginia state legislature has halted work following a ransomware attack, putting nearly 900 official files and over 500 user accounts under lock and key, according to a press release by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Hundreds of computers connected to the offices of state lawmakers, as well as the chamber’s website and email system, were affected by a malware attack which began Friday.

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce says the attack began on Friday. Credit: Rich Rogers/Worcester Telegram/MCT via Getty Images

Owners of personal email accounts and Google Drive calendars were also affected by the attack, which activists say could be down to Vladimir Putin’s Russian hackers.

“I cannot imagine for a second that this would be the work of my friends on the Republican side of the aisle. … And it’s not just Republicans. Democratic leaders are facing this right now as well,” said attorney Michael Niskanen, who plans to file a lawsuit soon on behalf of the state, in an interview with CNN on Monday.

Virginia has the nation’s sixth-largest state legislature with 234 legislative seats.

‘Spyware’ campaign

The hacker was demanding funds through bitcoin, according to authorities. The hackers also used a program known as Splice that was described by Kaspersky Lab in an analysis to have been used in a campaign to penetrate the computers of US and European government officials, media outlets and private citizens.

Spokespersons for the Virginia Senate and Virginia House of Delegates, which are both operated by Republican lawmakers, were not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Security experts said that the fact that the hackers targeted major office terminals and sent them spam emails suggests the attack was initially aimed at spying on the occupants.

“I could assume the attackers were looking for documents that would reflect on the legislature,” said Jeffrey Carr, CEO of Taia Global and author of the book “Inside Cyber Warfare.”

“If you get into the moment-to-moment knowledge of who is at the legislature, then potentially you can know more about what they’re up to. You can give them the ability to follow them, likely this would be the only thing they could look at.”

The decision to disable a key part of the legislature’s enterprise system required the entire staff to go into forced “stand down mode” on Sunday, according to a release from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The release said that the police had been notified and were assisting the office owners.

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