As consumed as Russia is with trying to overpower Ukraine, the Kremlin has still found time and talent to launch an all-out cyberwar against Costa Rica — the rain-forested Central American nation with a population just over 5 million, and no army, navy, air force or heavy weapons.
Why Russia is making such an effort to upend such a small and non-threatening nation is a mystery.
But perhaps a bigger mystery is why the Biden administration is so far completely silent about the onslaught in cyberspace against a neighbor in the Western Hemisphere — and one considered a friend of the United States.
The State Department, to be sure, is offering a $15 million reward for information leading to the identification, arrest, and/or conviction of members of the mysterious Russian Conti Group believed to be behind 1,000 cyberattacks in the U.S. last year and it does mention the hacking almost surely launched by Conti against the Costa Rican capital of San Jose beginning in April of this year.
But there is no official condemnation from the White House or the State Department of what just-elected Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves brands "cyberterrorism" against his country.
"And it is wreaking havoc at all levels of the public sector," a Costa Rican businessman visiting the U.S. told us last week. "Hospitals, our General Tax Service [Costa Rica's equivalent of the IRS], and our DIS [Department of Intelligence and Security] all are in turmoil now because of the Russian hackers."
Evidence is strong that the Russian hacking is being executed by the clandestine outfit Conti. In the FBI's Internet Crime Report 2021, Conti is one of the world's most prolific ransomware groups and is among "the three top variants" who targeted U.S. infrastructure last year.
An April 13 report by CNBC's Monica Buchanan Pitrelli noted that Conti first emerged on the scene in 2020 and cited an estimate by noted security researcher Shmuel Gihon that the group "has 350 members who collectively have made some $2.7 billion cryptocurrency in only two years."
In offering the reward money for information leading to the eventual capture of the Conti Group and its operatives, the State Department did cite its high-tech attack on Costa Rica and noted that the attack "severely impacted the country's foreign trade by disrupting its customs and taxes platforms."
The big question about Costa Rica as a target for Russian cyberterror is, of course, why?
"The attacks on Costa Rica are more likely an act of opportunity rather than retaliation [for support of Ukraine]," according to Benny Czarny, CEO of the cybersecurity firm OPSWAT. "They knew that shutting off access to critical agencies would cause disruption for citizens who are dependent on those funds."
The muscle-flexing of Russia toward Costa Rica would appear to be a demonstration of just what could be done to other countries. In this case, Conti and the Kremlin have chosen to show just what cyberterror they can wreak on a country that its late President Oscar Arias characterized as "an unarmed people, whose children have never seen a fighter or a tank or a warship," but, "a country of teachers" where "children go with books under their arms, not rifles on their shoulders."
Would a statement of condemnation from the White House for what Costa Rica is experiencing at Russian hands not be in order?
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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