CNN reports the Department of Justice has announced the indictment of seven Russian military officers (GRU) in an international hacking plot in connection to the Russian olympic doping scandal. This is the third case US federal prosecutors have brought against Russian nationals this year. Although this case was not brought by the special counsel’s office in relation to the Russia investigation, three of the defendents listed in today’s indictment were also previously charged in July with hacking in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The charges include hacking, wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering, with hacking efforts spanning from December 2014 to May 2018.
250 computers of athletes and anti-doping organizations around the world and in the US were hacked in retaliation for the exposure of the Russian doping program that led to Russian athletes being stripped of medals and banned from the 2016 Summer Olympics, USA Today reports.
“In other words, Russia cheated,” said Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for western Pennsylvania. “They cheated, they got caught, they were banned from the Olympics, they were mad and they retaliated. In retaliating, they broke the law, so they are criminals.”
The conspiracy aimed to publicize stolen information as part of an influence and disinformation campaign designed to undermine and retaliate against the efforts of international anti-doping organizations and officials who had publicly exposed a Russian state-sponsored athlete doping program, officials said. Another goal was to damage the reputations of athletes around the world by falsely claiming that such athletes were using banned or performance-enhancing drugs, officials said.USA Today
Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles were among the hundreds of athletes targeted, according to Buzzfeed. GRU officers are also charged with conducting cyber attacks against Westinghouse Electric Corporation, a Pennsylvania nuclear energy company, which provides nuclear power to Ukraine. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon in the Netherlands and a Swiss laboratory involved in the UK Novichok poisoning investigation also came under cyber attacks from GRU.
The Western District of Pennsylvania and the Justice Department’s National Security Division are prosecuting the indictment announced on Thursday. The indictment states that the GRU officers used spearphishing and fake identities in their hacking activities. According to the indictment, the hackings were largely carried out from Russia. However, if a remote hacking was unsucessful, the GRU officers would travel to the traveling official’s location and use hotel wi-fi networks to gain access to the victim’s computer.
The US is not alone in the effort to hold Russia to account today in ongoing and mounting tensions between Western allies and Moscow. Multiple nations are engaging in a global “naming and shaming” effort to shine a light on Russia’s actions.
On Thursday, per CNN, Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance members Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia accused Russia of carrying out a worldwide campaign of “malicious” cyber attacks. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt states, “This pattern of behaviour demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.”
Hours later, in a joint Dutch-UK press conference in The Hague, the Dutch government accused the GRU of targeting the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in a failed cyber attack. Dutch officials gave unprecedented details as they detailed the Russian operation, CNN reports. Four of the names listed by Dutch officials in the plot against the OPCW are also found in the US indictment.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, said the alliance would strengthen its defenses against cyberwarfare and that its members “stand in solidarity with the decision by the Dutch and British governments to call out Russia on its blatant attempts to undermine international law and institutions.”
The UK Russian embassy dismissed the claims made by British officials, saying, “This statement is reckless. It has become a tradition for such claims to lack any evidence. It is yet another element of the anti-Russian campaign by the UK government. By the way, it is hardly a coincidence that these accusations appear exactly at the time of NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels and announcements of creating special cyber attack military units in several Western countries.”