WASHINGTON – Russian hackers hijacked American identities and U.S. software tools and used them in an attack on Georgian government Web sites during the war between Russia and Georgia last year, according to new research to be released Monday by a nonprofit U.S. group.
In addition to refashioning common Microsoft Corp. software into a cyber-weapon, hackers collaborated on popular U.S.-based social-networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook Inc., to coordinate attacks on Georgian sites, the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit found. While the cyberattacks on Georgia were examined shortly after the events last year, these U.S. connections weren't previously known.
The research shows how cyber-warfare has outpaced military and international agreements, which don't take into account the possibility of American resources and civilian technology being turned into weapons.
Identity theft, social networking, and modifying commercial software are all common means of attack, but combining them elevates the attack method to a new level, said Amit Yoran, a former cybersecurity chief at the Department of Homeland Security. "Each one of these things by itself is not all that new, but this combines them in ways we just haven't seen before," said Yoran, now CEO of computer-security company NetWitness Corp.
The five-day Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008 left hundreds of people dead, crushed Georgia's army, and left two parts of its territory on the border with Russia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — under Russian occupation.
The cyberattacks in August 2008 significantly disrupted Georgia's communications capabilities, disabling 20 Web sites for more than a week. Among the sites taken down last year were those of the Georgian president and defense minister, as well as the National Bank of Georgia and major news outlets.