6 Russian Officers Charged with Hacking10/20 06:10
The Justice Department announced charges Monday against Russian intelligence
officers in cyberattacks that targeted a French presidential election, the
Winter Olympics in South Korea and American businesses. The case implicates the
same Kremlin unit that interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, but is not
related to the November vote.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department announced charges Monday against
Russian intelligence officers in cyberattacks that targeted a French
presidential election, the Winter Olympics in South Korea and American
businesses. The case implicates the same Kremlin unit that interfered in the
2016 U.S. elections, but is not related to the November vote.
The indictment accuses the six defendants, all said to be current and former
officers in the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, of hacks
that prosecutors say were aimed at furthering the Kremlin's geopolitical
interests and in destabilizing or punishing perceived enemies. All told, the
attacks caused billions of dollars in losses and disrupted a broad
cross-section of life, including health care in Pennsylvania, a power grid
serving hundreds of thousands of customers in Ukraine and a French election
that saw the late-stage disclosure of hacked emails.
The seven-count indictment is the most recent in a series of Justice
Department prosecutions of Russian hackers, often working on behalf of the
government. Past cases have focused on attacks against targets like internet
giant Yahoo and the 2016 presidential contest, when Russian hackers from the
GRU stole Democratic emails that were released online in the weeks before the
The attacks in this case are "some of the most destructive, most costly,
most egregious cyber attacks ever known," said Scott Brady, the U.S. Attorney
for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the 50-page indictment was
"Time and again, Russia has made it clear: They will not abide by accepted
norms, and instead, they intend to continue their destructive, destabilizing
cyber behavior," said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.
The indictment does not charge the defendants in connection with
interference in American elections, though the officers are part of the same
intelligence unit that prosecutors say interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
One of the six charged in the case announced Monday was among the Russian
military intelligence officers charged with hacking in special counsel Robert
Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.
The timing of the indictment was unrelated to the upcoming election in the
U.S., said Assistant Attorney General John Demers. He said that despite ongoing
warnings of Russian interference in the election, Americans "should be
confident that a vote cast for their candidate will be counted for that
The hacking targets described in Monday's case are diverse, with the
indictment fleshing out details about attacks that in some instances had
already received significant attention because of the havoc they had caused.
The indictment accuses the officers, for instance, of hacking into the 2018
Winter Olympics in South Korea after Russia was punished by the International
Olympic Committee for a vast doping conspiracy. It also says the Tokyo 2020
Olympics were targeted. Those Olympics have been postponed until next year.
The Japanese government's chief Cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to
comment on specifics. "We cannot overlook malicious cyberattacks that could
shake the foundation of democracy," he said.
Tokyo 2020 in a statement said "no significant impact has been observed in
our operations." It said it has been taking "countermeasures" but declined to
Prosecutors say the hackers unleashed a devastating malicious software
attack during the opening ceremony in February 2018 that deleted data from
thousands of computers related to the event and left them inoperable. Russia
then tried to pin blame on North Korea in what prosecutors say was a failed
"false flag" attempt.
Another attack was aimed at disrupting the 2017 presidential election in
France through hacks that targeted local government entities, campaigns and
political parties, including the party of current President Emmanuel Macron.
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. The
involvement of bots raised questions about the possible involvement of Vladimir
Putin and the Russian government. The leaks, which gained huge media attention
in France, were shared by WikiLeaks and several alt-right activists on Twitter,
Facebook and others.
Other attacks targeted international investigators looking into the
suspected nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his
daughter in the United Kingdom, as well as the country of Georgia, where
roughly 15,000 websites were defaced.
"In many cases," the indictment says, "the Conspirators replaced website
home pages with an image of a former Georgian president, who was known for his
efforts to counter Russian influence in Georgia, along with the caption, 'I'll
Beyond that, though, the hacks had harmful impacts on quality-of-life for
everyday citizens. The attacks in Ukraine, for instance, disrupted the power
supply in the middle of winter for hundreds of thousands of customers,
And the global malware attack known as NotPetya that infected computers
across the world harmed the operations of the Heritage Valley Heath System,
which prosecutors say serves tens of thousands of people in western
Pennsylvania. Work stations were locked, hard drives encrypted, laboratory
records and other files were inaccessible, and Heritage Valley temporarily lost
access to critical computer systems related to medical care.
Robert Lee, a security researcher who helped uncover the malware used in one
of the Ukraine hacks, said U.S. and European political leaders should have done
more at the time to call out Russia and make clear that attacks on power grids
But Lee, CEO of security firm Dragos, also welcomed the indictment as an
important message before the U.S. presidential election about American
officials' resolve to fight back against attacks on elections and civic
"This is a broad signal from U.S. intelligence to say, 'We're watching you
and we're willing to burn our resources to burn your resources,'" Lee said.
"Leading up to the election, I think that's an important signal to send."
The six defendants face charges including conspiracy to conduct computer
fraud and abuse, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. None is currently 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.
"No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and
irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to
pursue small tactical advantages as fits of spite," said Demers, the Justice
Department's top national security official.