U.S. Prosecution of Russian Hackers May Prove Impossible

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The U.S. faces “difficulties … and at times impossibilities” in combating Russian hackers, including those behind the recent attacks on the Democratic National Committee, reports the New York Times. That hack influenced the course, if not the outcome, of a presidential campaign and was the culmination of years of increasingly brazen digital assaults on American infrastructure. The U.S. has few options for responding to such hacks. Russia does not extradite its citizens and is not easily be deterred through public shaming. At times, the U.S. has enlisted local police officials to arrest suspects when they leave Russia. More often than not, the Justice Department investigates people who will almost certainly never stand trial.

“You can indict 400 people. They don’t care,” said Robert Anderson, who until last year served as the FBI’s senior executive overseeing computer investigations. The American government divides the cybersecurity world into two categories: attacks directed or sponsored by governments, and those conducted by criminals. Russian hacking defies easy categorization because the Russian government tacitly supports many private hackers and occasionally taps them for freelance government work. That has complicated investigations and upended the normal diplomatic order. In the D.N.C. case and other election-year hacks, the authorities have concluded that people affiliated with the Russian government are to blame for election-year hacks. Even if intelligence officials can identify who is behind those attacks, naming the actual perpetrators is even harder.

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