The FBI has admitted to secretly hacking into the computers of American citizens but insists that the effort was meant to “fix Russian malware.”
The U.S. federal government revealed details of the operation on Tuesday.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), FBI agents were trying to disable a global computer network that was infected by “Russian malware.”
The DOJ says the “Russian malware” had been in operation for two decades.
A court warrant allowed FBI agents to remotely access infected computers, which officials described as an “innovative use of legal authorities.”
U.S. officials claimed that the group was linked to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
They said that the group had deployed a sophisticated malware toolkit dubbed ‘Snake.”
Compromised computers were used by the hackers to copy stolen files and deploy other cyberweapons, the DOJ claims.
Democrat President Joer Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland celebrated the effort in a statement.
“The Justice Department, together with our international partners, has dismantled a global network of malware-infected computers that the Russian government has used for nearly two decades to conduct cyber-espionage, including against our NATO allies,” Garland said.
Operation MEDUSA involved FBI agents remotely accessing infected computers and tricking Snake into self-destructing.
The hacking was authorized by the Eastern District of New York and constituted an “innovative use of legal authorities,” according to Matthew G. Olsen, who heads the DOJ’s National Security Division.
The federal government did not say how many American computers it had accessed.
However, the DOJ said it had notified owners of the operation.
Officials claimed that the FSB unit was operating out of the city of Ryazan and that the network under its control stretched across 50 nations.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said human error on the part of the Russians had allowed US cybersecurity experts to identify the malware and develop a tool to counter it.
The Biden admin described the outcome as a major victory.
The network was “the FSB’s most sophisticated long-term cyberespionage malware implant,” the DOJ said.
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