Researchers believe Russians hacked company key to Trump, Ukraine scandal

Clay Curtis
January 15, 2020

Russian hackers recently targeted the Ukrainian gas company that was at the heart of President Trump's impeachment - and they succeeded in gaining access to its email accounts, according to California cybersecurity firm Area 1 Security.

Area 1's report said it discovered the GRU had targeted two subsidiaries of Burisma, KUB Gas LLC and Esko Pivnich, as well as CUB Energy Inc, which was affiliated with the firm, using lookalike domains meant to trick employees into providing their email passwords.

It is not clear what the hackers were looking for or may have obtained, although the operation's timing suggests that Russian agents may have been searching for material that could damage former USA vice president Joe Biden, whose son Hunter previously served on Burisma's board. Russian Federation and its purported cyber-geeks have been blamed, without proof, for interfering in the United States presidential election, meddling in Brexit, the Catalonia independence vote and numerous other political processes around the globe.

But Area 1 said at least some of the attempts to fool Burisma employees into giving their login credentials succeeded and the hackers were able to access one of Burisma's servers. Breaching Burisma could yield communications from, to, or about Hunter Biden, who served as a director between 2014 and 2019. Hunter Biden stopped working with the company in 2019.

Trump has been impeached in part because of allegations that in a July phone call, Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son and appeared to raise unfounded allegations that the former vice president stopped prosecution of the company.

Area 1 says it also linked the GRU phishing campaign against Burisma to another phishing attack targeting a company founded by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky - whose conversation with Trump last summer sparked calls to impeach the USA president.

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Stolen emails were released online at the time by Russian agents and WikiLeaks in an effort to favor Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller determined in his investigation.

"According to a new report, they're hacking information that could be a prelude to more election interference in 2020".

Area 1 discovered the phishing campaign by the Russian military intelligence unit, known as the GRU, on New Year's Eve, said Falkowitz, who would not discuss whom he notified prior to going public. There, unwitting victims enter their usernames and passwords, which the hackers then harvest.

Area 1 said its researchers connected the phishing campaign targeting Burisma to an effort earlier past year that targeted Kvartal 95, a media organization founded by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Area 1 Security said it was not clear what the hackers were searching for when they hacked Burisma Holdings. Trump is seeking reelection and Biden is a potential opponent out of a dozen Democrats seeking their party's nomination.

Neither Joe Biden or Hunter Biden were summoned to the US House to testify in Trump's impeachment. "Any American president who had not repeatedly encouraged foreign interventions of this kind would immediately condemn this attack on the sovereignty of our elections", Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said.

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