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US Cyber Command 'Hunts Forward' in Latvia

FILE PHOTO: Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture
FILE PHOTO: Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture

Repeated attempts by hackers, including some linked to Russia, to damage or take down critical infrastructure in Latvia have been answered, thanks in part to help from U.S. and Canadian cyber personnel.

The three countries Wednesday announced the completion of a three-month-long operation focused on hunting down threats to Latvia’s infrastructure that also involved a series of defensive actions.

The so-called “hunt forward” mission involved more than a dozen U.S. personnel from U.S. Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, a Canadian cyber task force and Latvia’s CERT.LV, the Latvian military’s cybersecurity response division.

“Latvia has demonstrated incredible resilience for the past year, having been among the most targeted EU states by Russian hacktivists and Russian state-supporting hacking groups,” CERT.LV General Manager Baiba Kaškina said in a joint statement by the three countries.

“The defensive cyber operations conducted allowed us to ensure our state infrastructure is a harder target for malicious cyber actors,” he said. “We remain focused on making sure critical infrastructure and e-services are secure and are available for the general public and the government.”

A report published earlier this year by the European Union’s Computer Emergency Response Team found that Latvia has been the second-most targeted country for cyberattacks since January 2022, trailing only Poland.

And Latvian Public Broadcasting reported some of the country’s energy and transport companies were attacked this past February, most likely by hackers financed by Russia, though officials said the attack caused few disruptions.

U.S. Cyber Command has been conducting hunt forward operations since 2018, deploying 47 times to 22 countries.

The goal is to seek out malicious coding and other tools being developed by adversaries, whether nation states or criminal organizations, and take caution to make sure they cannot be used to launch successful attacks.

Earlier this year, U.S. Cyber Command announced the completion of a hunt forward mission to Albania, which followed a series of crippling cyberattacks against Albanian government websites by Iran.

U.S. officials praised the operation with Albania, saying it generated “incredibly valuable insights” into Iranian cyber exploits. And they said the recently concluded operation with Latvia was likewise helpful.

“Partnerships like this one with Latvia are key to our defense,” U.S. Army Major General William Hartman, commander of Cyber National Mission Force, said in the joint statement.

“With our hunt forward missions, we can deploy a team of talented people to work with our partners, find that activity before it harms the U.S., and better posture the partner to harden critical systems against bad actors who threaten us all,” he added.