USA indicts seven Russian military intelligence agents in global hacking conspiracy

Minnie Murray
October 7, 2018

"The announcement by the United Kingdom government highlights a growing need for public and private sectors around the world to work together to detect, defend and dissipate the rising volume and ferocity of cyber attacks".

But US assistant attorney-general John Demers, who announced the charges, said he wanted to "expose the truth for the rest of the world to see".

All 298 passengers and crew - most of whom were Dutch - were killed when the jet crashed in an area held by Russia-backed separatists.

The West's coordinated response also saw North Atlantic Treaty Organisation chief Jens Stoltenberg warning Russia to halt its "reckless" behaviour and the European Union condemning "aggressive" Russian spying.

"Cyber attacks orchestrated by the GRU have attempted to undermine worldwide sporting institution WADA, disrupt transport systems in Ukraine, destabilise democracies and target businesses", said UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. "We intercepted it and expelled the four men from the country".

"That's how you make the world safer - when we act together to call out this sort of behaviour".

The two other attacks had previously been attributed to the Russian state by the United Kingdom, but not specifically to the GRU.

The watchdog at the time was looking into the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain and Western reports of chemical weapons being used by Russia's ally, Syria, against internal opponents.

The NCSC said it was "almost certainly" the GRU behind a "BadRabbit" attack in October 2017 that caused disruption to the Kiev metro, Odessa airport and Russia's central bank, and Britain's cyber security chiefs say they have "high confidence" Russian intelligence was responsible for a strike on WADA in August 2017.

"The Western spy mania is gathering pace", the Russian Foreign Ministry had said earlier, with ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling the allegations a "diabolical perfume cocktail".

The allegations were made by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) as it indicted seven GRU officers yesterday for computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.

"The Dutch government finds the involvement of these intelligence operatives extremely worrisome", Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld told a news conference.

From one confiscated machine, investigators extracted information that one Dutch official said contained details of a cyber-operation based here that targeted the AGC and PDRM.

"They were trying to commit a close access hack operation", he said.

Reports suggest four GRU officers set up hacking equipment in the boot of a auto parked in the OPCW's offices in The Hague.

"The actions of these seven hackers, all working as officials for the Russian government, were criminal, retaliatory, and damaging to innocent victims and the United States' economy, as well as to world organizations", said said Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray. The Dutch also found mobile phones on the men that had been activated near the Moscow headquarters of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. When these failed, the GRU then dispatched a four-man team to Amsterdam to penetrate the OPCW.

Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Minin were also named, and officials said they were support agents.

NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg has also warned Russian Federation to stop "reckless" cyber attacks, backing the British and Dutch governments.

Russian military intelligence (GRU) used a network of hackers across the world to attack a wide range of targets, including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands and the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said.

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