The U.S. Government Is Fueling Cyberwars

Reporter Andy Greenberg on one of the world’s most powerful hacking groups and his new book, ‘Sandworm’

Hope Reese
OneZero
Published in
7 min readNov 4, 2019

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Credit: Aitor Diago/Getty Images

IImagine waking up and turning on the bathroom faucet, but the water won’t run. The heat won’t turn on either, and when you go to switch on the lights, you’re left in the dark. In the cyberwar era, this apocalyptic scenario is not only plausible, but real — it happened in Ukraine when the Russian hacking group Sandworm switched off the power in 2015.

One of the world’s most powerful hacking syndicates, Sandworm has a notorious rap sheet. The group is responsible for the critical infrastructure attacks on Ukraine; NotPetya, a computer virus that has caused $10 billion in damages; and even the 2018 attack on the Olympics, disrupting ticket sales and internet access during the South Korean ceremony.

As a reporter for WIRED, Andy Greenberg has spent years chronicling Sandworm’s exploits. Greenberg’s new book, Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers, tells the organization’s backstory and explores the rise of cyberattacks as political warfare.

Greenberg followed a team of security experts involved in the search for the Sandworm hackers, and documented the damage they caused. Real cyberwar, says Greenberg, “is disruption on a level where you can feel it happening.” And the Ukraine blackouts were just the beginning. Sandworm is still out there — and no one knows where it might strike next.

OneZero caught up with Greenberg to discuss how Russia used Ukraine as a testing ground for cyberwar, how the international community ignored the threats, and what could happen in the 2020 election, among other subjects.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

OneZero: The first major attack by Sandworm — and what you say is the first global example of cyberwar — was a blackout in Ukraine. You say that Russia was using Ukraine as a testing ground. How so?

Andy Greenberg: Sandworm launched one attack on Ukraine after another, targeting…

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Hope Reese
OneZero

Writer (currently) in Budapest, bylines @NYTimes, @TheAtlantic, @Undarkmag, @VICE, @voxdotcom & more; follow on Twitter @hope_reese; hopereese.com