Dark Markets Can Be a Geopolitical Force Multiplier

There are good reasons why the dark web marketplace Hydra has thrived in Russia.

By Leonid Bershidsky / BLOOMBERG

This week, Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild, is reporting a major hacking attack from Russia on the German banking system and naming “the state Russian hackers from the ‘Fancy Lazarus’ group” as the culprits. If the attack really took place — there is no official confirmation so far — it will, as usual, be hard to pin definitively on Russian state actors, even if cybersecurity experts blame them. The group of cyber-extortionists known as “Fancy Lazarus” could just as easily be linked to China, North Korea or no government at all.

Because of this deniability, U.S. President Joe Biden had to tread carefully when trying to draw “red lines” for Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit last month: He couldn’t directly tell Putin to put an end to cyberattacks. Instead, he spoke of not providing refuge to cybercriminals — a line of discussion Putin tried to deflect by saying Russia would consider handing over cybercriminals to the U.S., but on a reciprocal basis. That’s a non-starter as a comprehensive system — only specific exchanges could theoretically be arranged.