An Associated Press-led investigation into Russian hackers revealed major susceptibilities in U.S. cybersecurity.
The hackers, known as Fancy Bear, who also allegedly interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, were able to gain access to the email accounts of at least 87 high-level defense contract workers, exposing information about drones, stealth fighter jets, cloud-computing platforms, missiles, and rockets.
Most of the accounts were personal Gmail accounts, although a few were corporate accounts.
The hack affected U.S. defense contractors of every size, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co., Boeing Co., Airbus Group and General Atomics were targeted, as well as a number of trade groups and foreign contractors.
Officials have not determined exactly what the hackers stole, but the hack exposes vulnerabilities in U.S. cybersecurity. According to the AP, of the 31 contractors who spoke with the outlet, only one received any sort of warning from U.S. officials.
The AP spoke with Charles Sowell, a former senior adviser to the U.S. office of the Director of National Intelligence who was targeted in the attacks.
“The programs that they appear to target and the people who work on those programs are some of the most forward-leaning, advanced technologies. And if those programs are compromised in any way, then our competitive advantage and our defense is compromised,” Sowell said. “That’s what’s really scary.”
Hackers have used fake notifications to gain access to the email accounts.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. James Poss, who has done drone research for the Federal Aviation Administration, received a notification that appeared to be from Google, alerting him of a security breach.
“I clicked on it and instantly knew that I had been had,” Poss said. He quickly realized that hackers had designed the alert so that he would enter his credentials.
AP also spoke with drone consultant Keven Gambold, who was also a target of the hack. He noted that hackers have increasingly posed threats to U.S. cybersecurity, giving them a technological advantage. “This would allow them to leapfrog years of hard-won experience,” he said.
The threat of Russian hacks has so spooked his company, he said, that they have “almost gone back in time to use stand-alone systems if we’re processing client proprietary data — we’re FedEx’ing hard drives around.”