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The Threat of a Russian Hack Against the U.S.

The only thing more likely than a hack from China is a hack from Russia.

It is widely known in the cyberintelligence community that Russian hackers are some of the most skilled in the world. They are especially well-known for their cyber-to-physical attacks, which are cyberattacks that have tangible real-world results. Normally, hackers can only affect cyber information from their targets, such as stealing a credit card number or crashing a website. But in a cyber-to-physical attack, a hacker could (for example) sabotage a computer that is supposed to be regulating the pressure of a water pipe, so that the water pipe explodes. Hence, the cyber attack translates to a physical act of terrorism. In fact, this exact scenario nearly happened in the U.S. in 2014, when Russian hackers infiltrated electrical, water, and fuel distribution systems, nearly causing catastrophic power outages, flooding, and other havoc.

One of the curious roots of Russian hacking might actually come from its videogamers. Russia has an extremely vast videogame community; and unlike some countries where gamers favor consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation, nearly 100% of Russian gamers use PCs. There is a vast community of tech-savvy Russians with detailed PC knowledge, and this community often transitions from gaming to hacking – a simple example is that a major percentage of games in Russia are in fact pirated versions rather than purchased versions. Such a trend is especially concerning, considering that PC gaming has become more popular all around the world, hence leaving millions of gamers susceptible to Russian hacking. Even mobile videogames aren't safe from interference.

Russia emphasizes computer science in its education systems, and consequently it had some of the best computer designers—and hackers—in the world. One of the best cybersecurity companies in the world is Russian, and has ties to the Russian government. The implication is, of course, that the Russian government could potentially use cybersecurity companies to launch an enormous global hack at will. The US has also noted that Russian ships could be tampering with the underwater data cables that carry nearly all the internet information for the entire planet, essentially letting the Russians carry out the ultimate hack completely manipulating or destroying any country's internet at will. Russia has also carried out a diverse range of other types of attacks, including shutting down Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify with a botnet. With such a varied and effective hacking skillset, Russia could continue to threaten the safety of the rest of the world. Only time will tell if these potential dangers will come to fruition, but the threat is most definitely real.

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