Western military commanders have grown increasingly worried about Russian submarines lurking around internet cables at the bottom of the ocean.
On Monday, the U.S. did something about it.
The Treasury Department slapped sanctions on a string of Russian companies for allegedly helping to develop cyber capabilities and submarine hardware for Russia’s main spy agency, the FSB. The department also warned that Moscow may be monitoring internet cables at the bottom of the ocean.
The new measure sanctions a handful of companies and their executives, including a Russian submarine-maker called Divetechnoservices, which got paid $1.5 million to deliver a special submarine to the spy agency, according to the Treasury’s statement.
“Today’s action also targets the Russian government’s underwater capabilities,” the statement reads. “Russia has been active in tracking undersea communication cables, which carry the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.”
The concern is that Russia could either tap into those cables to do some next-level internet espionage — or, in the event of a crisis, cut the cables and sow chaos through the global economy.
In December, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon, commander of NATO's submarine forces, issued a public warning about Russian submarines prowling around near subsea telecommunications links.
“We are now seeing Russian underwater activity in the vicinity of undersea cables that I don't believe we have ever seen,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “Russia is clearly taking an interest in NATO and NATO nations' undersea infrastructure.”
The FSB itself was sanctioned back in March, and Monday’s new measures took aim at its high-tech contractors, like Divetechnoservices.
“Since 2007, Divetechnoservices has procured a variety of underwater equipment and diving systems for Russian government agencies, to include the FSB,” the Treasury’s statement read. “Further, in 2011, Divetechnoservices was awarded a contract to procure a submersible craft valued at $1.5 million for the FSB.”
Nobody at Divetechnoservices’ headquarters in St. Petersburg answered phone calls from VICE News on Monday.
The sanctions came in response to a series of aggressive moves by Russia in cyberspace, according to the Treasury, including last year’s NotPetya cyberattack, intrusions against the U.S. energy grid, and global compromises of network infrastructure devices, including routers and switches.
“The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.