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Digital fingerprints on Red October spyware point to Russia ... or do they?

Western experts who have reviewed a Russia-based report on Red October are divided over whodunnit, cyberspies in Russia or some other perpetrator. The Red October cyberspy campaign, uncovered this week, has one of the broadest geographic spreads ever identified.

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This map identifies the countries where Red October infections are present.

Kaspersky Lab

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In one of the largest cyberespionage networks ever uncovered, cyberspies operating through a global web of computer servers have over five years siphoned libraries' worth of diplomatic and proprietary data, sensitive documents, e-mails, and passwords from hundreds of government and industry sites worldwide.

Dubbed Red October, the cyberspy campaign began in 2007, targeting networks inside embassies and research institutes, trade and commerce offices, and energy, aerospace, and defense firms in more than 20 countries. Most targets were in Eastern Europe, but some were in North America and Western European, according to Kaspersky, the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm that unveiled Red October this week.

Besides vacuuming up data and stealing electronic files, the Red October spyware is a utility-knife-style malware that can also infiltrate smartphones, networking equipment, and removable hard drives. After stealing data, it then wipes away any trace it has ever been on those devices.

Even so, tidbits found inside the malicious software code led Kaspersky researchers to reach a startling conclusion: The cyberspies, whoever they are, have a strong connection with their motherland.

"We strongly believe that the attackers have Russian-speaking origins," the company's report concludes. "We've counted several hundreds of infections worldwide – all of them in top locations such as government networks and diplomatic institutions. The infections we've identified are distributed mostly in Eastern Europe, but there are also reports coming from North America and Western European countries such as Switzerland or Luxembourg."

First on the list with the most infections is Russia, where the Red October malware has been detected on 35 systems. Next come Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and on down to 11th-place United States, with six infections, Kaspersky reported. Some others, including Canada, Britain, and China, had no infections listed.

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