Russian hack was ‘classic espionage’ with stealthy, targeted tactics

Some malware used in the attack had never been seen before by investigators.

Some kinds of online aggression are “noisy,” almost certain to draw attention, as the multifaceted Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election was. And some are “quiet,” more reminiscent of the subtle spy-vs.-spy operations fictionalized in the novels by the great John le Carré, who died Dec. 12. The far-reaching Russian hack that sent U.S. government and corporate officials scrambling in recent days appears to have been a quietly sophisticated bit of online spying. Investigators at cybersecurity firm FireEye, which itself was victimized in the operation, marveled that the meticulous tactics involved “some of the best operational security” its investigators had seen, using at least one piece of malicious software never previously detected.

“This is classic espionage,” said Thomas Rid, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who specializes in cybersecurity issues. “It’s done in a highly sophisticated way. … But this is a stealthy operation.”

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