Throwback attack: The U.S. hits Russia with the first logic bomb attack

Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology
Courtesy of CFE Media and Technology

In the midst of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched a trojan horse code, dubbed a logic bomb, on the Soviet Union. This attack would go down in history as one of the largest and most effective cyberattacks the United States ever unleashed on another nation and would severely cripple the Soviet Union. To this day, the effects of the attack are still being felt.

The logic bomb

A logic bomb is a “trojan horse” program that is activated when certain conditions are met. It is traditionally meant to have harmful effects on the chosen target — typically, a shutdown of a software, which can cripple a business or infrastructure.

Since this attack, there have been other logic bombs. One of the larger-scale logic bomb attacks occurred in 2019 at Siemens. A Siemens employee had been planting logic bombs in spreadsheets that constantly made them shut down. Siemens needed to constantly ask that employee to fix the issue, until they discovered that he was the one causing the problems.

The Deception Program

Gus W. Weiss, a White House policy adviser on technology and intelligence, played a major role in planning the attack on the Soviet Union. He discovered that the Soviets were in need of pipeline control software. As a result, their government created a branch called Directorate T to carry out research and steal new technologies from the Western world. An insider under the code name “Farewell” provided further information and documentation to the U.S. government of the heists performed by the KGB sector.

According to a Washington Post article, the documents provided by the agent “showed the Soviets had stolen valuable data on radar, computers, machine tools and semiconductors.” This disgusted Weiss, who stated that “our science was supporting their national defense.”

In January 1982, Weiss presented a plan to CIA Director William J. Casey that involved creating a new technology for the KGB to steal; one that would only work for a period of time before failing and causing damage. The plan was named the Deception Program, but this kind of attack is now called a logic bomb.

Thomas Reed, a U.S. national security official, stated that, “In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard currency earnings from the West and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds.”

Casey went on to present Weiss’ plan to then-President Ronald Reagan, who put the program into motion.

In June 1982, there was an explosion in the Siberian Pipeline in the Soviet Union, creating a fire so massive it could be seen from space. Given the covert nature of this operation and without knowledge of where the faulty technology would end up, the U. S. government was unsure of what caused the explosion. They would soon learn it was an offshoot of the Deception Program.

Reagan’s hand

It has been heavily debated as to how great a role Reagan played in the execution of the operation. Reagan’s U.S. National Security Adviser revealed that Reagan approached Weiss about wanting a covert operation to take down the KGB, so he was at least aware of a plan to hinder the Soviet Union.

The aftermath and fallout

The Soviet Union denied any U.S. involvement with the pipeline explosion, claiming that it was a construction issue, according to RISI.

The impact on the Soviet Union was crushing. The pipeline explosion had both an economic and psychological effect, hurting the country’s gas supply and creating uncertainty about what other pieces of equipment were compromised.

Since then, logic bombs have made other appearances, such as in the previously mentioned Siemens incident. They are common in today’s world; however, they are preventable through using updated antivirus software, training all employees to avoid phishing emails and untrusted links, and reporting any suspicious activity.




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