RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE has not had a great year. After the botched attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal, an ex-spy living in Britain, scores of its officers were booted out of Western embassies. Hundreds more were exposed by sloppy tradecraft, such as the use of sequentially numbered passports. Yet there is at least some cheer for Russia’s cyber-spies: they have topped a rogue’s table of hacking prowess.
CrowdStrike, an American cyber-security company, published its annual report last month. For the first time, this included a ranking of the West’s cyber-foes. It did so by looking not at the sophistication of their tools (which can be bought from others) but instead at “breakout time”.
Breakout time measures how long it takes hackers to go from getting into a machine (say, an employee’s stolen laptop) to moving into more valuable parts of the network which that machine is part of (such as servers containing secrets). This typically involves looking around to find more vulnerabilities or swiping credentials that allow the intruder to masquerade as a network administrator, a process known as “privilege escalation”.
In its previous report, covering 2017, CrowdStrike had found the average breakout time to be just under two hours. In 2018 that had more than doubled—to over four-and-a-half. Apparently, then, a victory...