The hackers are accused of causing an emergency shutdown at a Saudi oil plant (file photo)
The US has charged four Russians government employees with cyber-attacks on the global energy sector.
They are accused of targeting hundreds of companies and organisations in around 135 countries between 2012-2018.
Their activities are said to have caused two separate emergency shutdowns at one facility in Saudi Arabia.
The conspiracy then allegedly attempted to hack the computers of a company that managed similar critical infrastructure entities in the US.
Some of the individuals are linked by the US indictment to the FSB, Russia’s security service.
The UK has also sanctioned a Russian defence organisation said to be linked to the attack
US President Joe Biden this week warned of possible cyber-attacks linked to the Ukraine conflict but these indictments involve activity dating back before it began.
US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said: “Russian state-sponsored hackers pose a serious and persistent threat to critical infrastructure both in the United States and around the world.
“Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity, they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defences and remain vigilant.”
What are the allegations?
The accused are alleged to have installed backdoors and launched malicious software designed to compromise the safety of energy facilities.
Two separate groups are accused.
According to the indictment, between May and September 2017, one group is accused of hacking the systems of a petro-chemical plant in Saudi Arabia and installing malware, which cyber security researchers have referred to as “Triton” or “Trisis” on a safety system produced by Schneider Electric.
This caused a fault that led the refinery’s electric safety systems to initiate two automatic emergency shutdowns of the refinery’s operation in Saudi Arabia.
Between February and July 2018, the conspirators are said to have researched similar refineries in the US and unsuccessfully attempted to hack the company’s computer systems. The accused in this case is said to be an employee of the State Research Center of the Russian Federation FGUP Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics.