U.S. charges 6 Russian intelligence officers in vast hacking campaign

Clay Curtis
October 20, 2020

The six men, aged 27 to 35, are allegedly members of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the same military intelligence agency previously accused by USA intelligence of hacking the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and former Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta during the 2016 presidential election.

The U.S. charged six current and former members of Russia's military intelligence agency for allegedly carrying out some of the world's most destructive and sophisticated hacking attacks from 2015 to 2019, including knocking out Ukraine's power grid and causing nearly $1 billion in damages to three American companies alone.

Monday's indictment is hardly a surprise, considering that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and United States officials have blamed the 2017 NotPetya outbreak on Moscow for years, even though the malware struck numerous Russian companies - from the central bank to the oil giant Rosneft and metal-maker Evraz - as well.

The alleged attacks hit targets in Ukraine, the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and western Pennsylvania.

At the same time, the US Department of Justice announced charges against six Russian GRU officers for alleged cyber-attacks serving "the strategic benefit of Russia". But it is not the first time the US has indicted members of the military unit.

The six accused hackers were placed on the FBI's most wanted list.

"The [Federal Bureau of Investigation] FBI has repeatedly warned that Russian Federation is a highly capable cyber adversary, and the information revealed in this indictment illustrates how pervasive and destructive Russia's cyber activities truly are", said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.

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The timing of the indictment was unrelated to the upcoming election in the US, said Assistant Attorney General John Demers.

Several of the countries targeted had blamed the Russian government for the hacks. Russian Federation tried to blame it on North Korea, the officials said.

The controversy known as the "Macron Leaks" involved the leak of over 20,000 emails linked to Macron's campaign in the days before his victory.

Beyond that, though, the hacks had harmful impacts on quality-of-life for everyday citizens.

Russian hackers targeted this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo with the aim of disrupting them, United Kingdom officials said.

The defendants are all facing seven counts: conspiracy to conduct computer fraud and abuse, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, damaging protected computers and aggravated identity theft. None is now in custody, but the Justice Department in recent years has eagerly charged foreign hackers in absentia in countries including Russia, China and Iran with the goal of creating a message of deterrence.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement on Monday said "no country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russian Federation, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite", saying the defendants were charged over the "most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group" and adding, "No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way".

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