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SolarWinds: Russian spy chief dismisses hack accusations as ‘a bad crime novel’

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The head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service has suggested the west was behind the SolarWinds cyberattack, acknowledged as one of the largest ever uncovered.

Sergei Naryshkin, director of the country’s SVR Intelligence Service, said he’d be “flattered” if critics thought the agency was capable of such a sophisticated attack.

“I don’t have the right to claim the creative achievements of others as my own,” he said. “These claims are like a bad crime novel,” he told the BBC. “Pathetic.”

Hackers, believed by cybersecurity experts to have been working on behalf of Russia, infiltrated the systems of Texas-based software company SolarWinds in early 2020, gaining access to thousands of companies and government offices – including emails at the US Treasury, Justice and Commerce departments. 

Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia???s foreign intelligence agency, attends a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 76th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Mr Naryshkin said the agency had reestablished contact with MI6 (Photo: Reuters)

Following the hack’s discovery in December last year, GCHQ and other cybersecurity experts declared the SVR was highly likely to be responsible for the attack, which Microsoft‘s president, Brad Smith, described as  “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen”.

Mr Naryshkin pointed to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, in 2013, which he said mirrored the techniques deployed during the SolarWinds attack.

“I don’t want to assert that this cyberattack was carried out by a US agency, but the tactics are similar,” he said.

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When asked if there was no evidence of Russian involvement, Mr Naryshkin said there was none, or “at least none that’s been made public,” saying blaming Russia for cyberattacks, poisonings, hacks, interference in elections was “so absurd” it didn’t seem appropriate to comment. “Russia is not involved,” he said. “That’s why I call these accusations absurd.”

Mr Naryshkin added that the SVR had started corresponding with its British equivalent MI6, describing their relationship as respectful and polite.

Ciaran Martin, former chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, called Mr Naryshkin’s interview “a slicker version of the infamous 2018 video of those two Russian operatives accused of the horrors of Salisbury,” telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he found the interview “equally unconvincing”.


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