Russian government-backed hackers have acquired sensitive information on the development and deployment of US weapons by breaching American defense contractors over the last two years, US security agencies said in a public advisory on Wednesday.
The information gathered is unclassified, but offers “significant insight into US weapons platforms development and deployment timelines,” and also covers export-controlled technology, according to the FBI, National Security Agency and US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
It’s one of the clearest public statements yet from the US government on how Kremlin-linked hackers have gathered intelligence on US defense contractors — a problem Washington has faced for years.
The intrusions hit contractors supporting every US military branch, including the Air Force, Army, Navy and Space Force, as well as firms that work on defense and intelligence programs, US officials said.
The advisory comes as US officials warn Russia against further invading Ukraine, along whose border Russia has massed an estimated 150,000 troops, according to US President Joe Biden.
US government agencies have for years regularly released information on state-sponsored hacking threats, and US officials continue to say there is no credible, specific cyber threat to the US homeland tied to the Ukraine crisis.
Contractors targeted by Russian hackers over the last two years have been involved in aircraft design and the development of combat and weapons systems, among other things, the US agencies said.
“By acquiring proprietary internal documents and email communications, adversaries may be able to adjust their own military plans and priorities, hasten technological development efforts, inform foreign policymakers of US intentions, and target potential sources for recruitment,” the advisory says.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the US advisory. Russia routinely denies allegations that it conducts hacking operations.
“Both the United States and Russia are continually probing, through cyber, to pick up information on weapons systems, on intelligence, etc.,” Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday when asked about the new US advisory.
“The compromise of intelligence information is [on] both sides,” said Reed, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And I think we’re very well prepared with our cyber operations to assist the Ukrainians.”
Reed said that the US generally has a “very active cyber operation against Russia. That was demonstrated … before the 2020 elections, when we literally took out some Russian sites who we knew were interfering with our election.”
President Joe Biden said at a January 19 news conference that the US could respond with hacking operations of its own to further Russian cyberattacks in Ukraine.
US officials have been publicly and privately advising US critical infrastructure firms for weeks to check their networks for potential Russian hacking threats.
Reed said that US Cyber Command, the military’s hacking and cyber defense unit, “is on full alert” in the event of any escalation from Russia in cyberspace.
US spy agencies have long used cyber tools to collect intelligence on rival powers such as Russia and China.
The US National Security Agency looked for ways to exploit products made by Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, The New York Times reported in 2014, citing classified documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.