Missile/Data
© Reuters/U.S. Air Force/Getty Images/EyeEm/Thomas M. Scheer/KJN
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Vandenberg AFB, CA
Cyber extortionists have stolen confidential documents possibly containing information about the United States Minuteman III nuclear deterrent, according to reports.

The hackers retrieved the files via Westech International, a US Air Force maintenance and engineering subcontractor working on the LGM-30G Minuteman III land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, Sky News revealed.

The Minuteman III is a key nuclear deterrent system that controls thermonuclear warheads that can travel more than 6,000 miles (9,656km).

The information was reportedly stolen after the hackers managed to infect Westech International's computer network with ransomware. In classic ransomware fashion, the hackers then proceeded to leak documents online.

The group leaked personal information as well as email communications and payroll data to show Westech that it had been breached. Although the operation was achieved via ransomware, the sheer value of the information means that it is unlikely it will ever be retrieved, even if the ransom is paid.

As Brett Callow, a researcher for Emsisoft, which specializes in tackling ransomware incidents, told Sky News, "Even if a company pays the ransom, there is no guarantee that the criminals will destroy the stolen data, especially if it has a high market value."

The media has now of course begun pointing the finger at Russia. The main reason being that the type of ransomware used, named MAZE, has in the past been traded on a range of Russian-speaking underground cyber-crime markets.

That said, by definition, this was a clandestine operation, and no evidence exists linking the leak to the Russian government.

In any case, this is not the first reported missile data leak in the past month. In May, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that details of a new Japanese state-of-the-art missile may have been leaked when sent to various contractors to bid on.