Back in the day, one of the strongest clues pointing away from the Kremlin came from a US intelligence agency report.
The PHP malware sample they have provided appears to be P.A.S. version 3.1.0 which is commonly available and the website that claims to have authored it says they are Ukrainian. It is also several versions behind the most current version of P.A.S which is 4.1.1b. One might reasonably expect Russian intelligence operatives to develop their own tools or at least use current malicious tools from outside sources.
WordFence pointed out that this malware was available widely, and the New York Times concurs.
He had made it available to download, free, from a website that asked only for donations, ranging from $3 to $250. The real money was made by selling customized versions and by guiding his hacker clients in its effective use.
But what happened after that report was interesting.
After the Department of Homeland Security identified his creation, he quickly shut down his website and posted on a closed forum for hackers, called Exploit, that “I’m not interested in excessive attention to me personally.”
Soon, a hint of panic appeared, and he posted a note saying that, six days on, he was still alive. […]
Serhiy Demediuk, chief of the Ukrainian Cyber Police, said in an interview that Profexer went to the authorities himself. As the cooperation began, Profexer went dark on hacker forums. He last posted online on Jan. 9. Mr. Demediuk said he had made the witness available to the F.B.I., which has posted a full-time cybersecurity expert in Kiev as one of four bureau agents stationed at the United States Embassy there. The F.B.I. declined to comment.
Profexer was not arrested because his activities fell in a legal gray zone, as an author but not a user of malware, the Ukrainian police say. But he did know the users, at least by their online handles. “He told us he didn’t create it to be used in the way it was,” Mr. Demediuk said.
A member of Ukraine’s Parliament with close ties to the security services, Anton Gerashchenko, said that the interaction was online or by phone and that the Ukrainian programmer had been paid to write customized malware without knowing its purpose, only later learning it was used in Russian hacking.
Huh. It turns out there was a Kremlin connection after all! This is just a side-effect of a rather smart choice made by Putin.
Also emerging from Ukraine is a sharper picture of what the United States believes is a Russian government hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 28 or Fancy Bear. It is this group, which American intelligence agencies believe is operated by Russian military intelligence, that has been blamed, along with a second Russian outfit known as Cozy Bear, for the D.N.C. intrusion.
Rather than training, arming and deploying hackers to carry out a specific mission like just another military unit, Fancy Bear and its twin Cozy Bear have operated more as centers for organization and financing; much of the hard work like coding is outsourced to private and often crime-tainted vendors.