Russian tech company hosts hacking conference amid US sanctions

The show took place during a major international conference on information security despite its organizer falling under US sanctions for aiding Russian intelligence services in malicious cyber operations.

The Positive Hack Days, held annually in Moscow, celebrated their 10th anniversary last month with panel discussions, presentations from security experts, master classes and hands-on workshops. At the center of the multi-day event is a 30-hour cyberbattle called The Standoff which pits two teams against each other in a mock hacking incident involving a model infrastructure. Top teams receive special prizes, such as an all-expense paid trip to watch and meet one of Russia’s top auto racing teams.

The model city used for The Standoff, the main event of the Positive Hack Days conference. (Source: Social networks)

In this year’s stalemate, the attacking party “dealt severe blows” to all businesses in the Model City, resulting in a power outage triggered by a hack of a substation, an interruption in oil production and the fall of a container onto a barge, according to a press release from the event.

FSB Facilitator: One month before the conference, the US Treasury Department has sanctioned Positive Technologies, the event organizer, to provide support services to the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other Russian government clients. Positive Technologies has been nominated under a broad new decree signed on April 15 by President Joe Biden to counter the actions of the Russian government and its intelligence services, the White House said in a fact sheet. Five other organizations operating in the tech sector have also been sanctioned for their support of Russian intelligence, the Treasury said.

After the designation, Positive Technologies posted a statement on its website calling the US claims “baseless.” The company also sent an open letter to the research community, thanking them for their support. Yuriy Maksimov, majority owner and CEO of Positive Technologies, said in a lengthy interview in early May with Russian media outlet RBC that he preferred to view the sanctions as “a mistake”.

“Any organization can buy our product, and it is simply illegal to restrict these opportunities on the territory of Russia for individual organizations (including government or law enforcement,” Maksimov said. “The desire to ‘Being invulnerable to accusations of cooperation with the service when playing in the international business arena simply forces Russian companies to be very, very careful. “

The large-scale conventions organized by Positive Technologies are serving as a recruiting ground for Russian intelligence services, the Treasury said as it imposed the sanctions. Although the Treasury has not named a Positive Hack Days, The Daily Beast published a survey in 2018 about a number of former event attendees, some of whom matched the names of Russian intelligence officers exactly.

IPO plans are moving forward: The company is moving forward with plans for an initial public offering (IPO) next year, executives told Reuters at the latest Positive Hack Days conference. Managing Director Denis Baranov said the company wrote to the Treasury outlining its opposition to US sanctions, but has yet to receive a response, Reuters reported.

Positive Technologies was founded in the early 2000s by Yuriy Maksimov, his brother Dmitry – who wrote the code for the company’s first product, the XSpider vulnerability scanner – and his friend Evgeniy Kireev. Dmitry Maksimov and Kireev both hold minority stakes in Positive Technologies through a holding company. The holding company also has two other companies in Russia and Kazakhstan, both named Positive Technologies.

The sanctioned Positive Technologies company produces its own suite of information security software, such as network traffic analysis software, firewall software, and malware detection scanners; it also offers to conduct security assessments, forensic investigations and intrusion tests for its clients.

Software Corrector for American and European Industry: The company has also identified and fixed more than 250 vulnerabilities in products from major US and European manufacturers, according to its website. In 2020 alone, Positive Technologies discovered more than 18,000 vulnerabilities in software from various manufacturers, the company said on April 20 in a retrospective covering 2019 through early 2021. Companies in the industrial sector faced a 91% increase in attacks in 2020 over the previous year, most involving variants of ransomware, the company said in a report released Wednesday.

On its website, Positive Technologies names a number of American and Western companies as technology partners, which the company says gives its researchers access to unique hardware, software and resources in return for improved product safety.

Despite the sanctions, Positive Technologies announced last month that it had identified vulnerabilities in hardware firewalls and a cloud cost analysis product made by two large US-based companies. The two U.S. companies have issued their own vulnerability advisories and issued updates to address them, acknowledging the work of Positive Technologies employees in their statements.

Another American software company, which fixed a vulnerability identified in one of its products by Positive Technologies in March, has released information on how to add a scanner made by the Russian company to the corrected product, according to a cached version of the US company’s website. The information had been removed from the US company’s website at the time of writing.

Maksimov said in the interview with RBC that the sanctions “do not directly affect” their business, as the Russian, European and US business lines have already been commercially separated; he noted that US affairs amounted to “virtually zero”. “Each line has its own set of services and products, its own development,” he said. “Only one legal entity of a group of companies in Russia fell under the sanctions… Thus, we can work with our partners without the participation of our sanctioned legal entity.”

Positive Technologies has affiliates in Switzerland and the UK, according to company records. Positive Technologies Holding AG, a Swiss cybersecurity provider for the telecommunications sector, was “spun” from Positive Technologies’ telecoms division in 2019, its website said. While it is not clear whether the parent company was the sanctioned Positive Technologies company in Russia, there is an overlap between the current and past management of the sanctioned Positive Technologies company and the Swiss company, according to a Kharon review of its site. Web and social media accounts of its employees.

Yuriy Maksimov and his friend Kireev have both loaned millions of pounds in recent years to PT Global Solutions Ltd, according to information disclosed by the British company in 2019, enough to ensure that the company “has sufficient resources to continue its operations. for the foreseeable future “. according to the disclosures. PT Global Solutions is ultimately owned by Positive Technologies Holding, according to records.

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