By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian authorities to protect state computers from hacking attacks, the Kremlin said on Monday, after an Internet security firm said a spy network had infiltrated government and embassy computers across the former Soviet bloc.
Dubbed Red October, the network used phishing attacks - or unsolicited emails to intended targets - to infect the computers of embassies and other state institutions with a program designed to harvest intelligence and send it back to a server.
Putin signed a decree on January 15 empowering the Federal Security Service (FSB) to "create a state system for the detection, prevention and liquidation of the effects of computer attacks on the information resources of the Russian Federation".
State computer and telecommunications networks protected by the cyber security system should include those inside Russia and at its embassies and consulates abroad, according to the decree, which was published on a Kremlin website on Monday.
The Russian Internet security firm Kaspersky Labs said last week that the computer espionage network, discovered last October, had been seeking intelligence from Eastern European and ex-Soviet states including Russia since 2007. (http://r.reuters.com/mag45t )
Many of the systems infected belonged to diplomatic missions, Vitaly Kamluk, an expert in computer viruses at Kaspersky Labs, said last week. He declined to name specific countries.
Kamluk said last week that the network was still active, and that law enforcement agencies in several European countries were investigating it.
Kaspersky Labs said the infiltrators had created more than 60 domain names, mostly in Russia and Germany, that worked as proxies to hide the location of their real server.
The FSB declined immediate comment last week when asked whether Russia had taken action to bring any suspected members of the espionage network to justice, or acted to improve Internet security in light of the discovery.
The FSB - the main successor agency of the Soviet KGB - requested a written query, to which it has not yet responded. The Kremlin declined immediate comment on Monday when asked whether Putin's decree was linked to Red October.
(Reporting by Steve Gutterman and Thomas Grove; Editing by Kevin Liffey)