The indictment does not charge the defendants with interfering in the US election, although the officers are part of the same military intelligence unit that prosecutors say interfered in the 2016 US presidential election by hacking Democratic email accounts.
The attacks in this case are “some of the most destructive, costly and egregious cyberattacks ever known,” said Scott Brady, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the 50-page indictment been filed.
“Time and time again, Russia has made it clear: they will not live up to accepted standards, and instead they intend to continue their destructive and destabilizing cyber behavior,” said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.
Calendar has nothing to do with US election, officials say
One of the six defendants in the case announced Monday was among Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking in Special Advocate Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference.
The timing of the arraignment was unrelated to the upcoming U.S. election, Deputy Attorney General John Demers said.
He said that despite continued warnings about Russian interference in the election, Americans “should be sure that a vote cast for their candidates will be counted for that candidate.”
The 50-page indictment, filed in federal court in Pittsburgh, also accuses hackers of deploying malware in 2017 that crippled computers around the world, including a hospital in Pennsylvania and a pharmaceutical company.
The criminal conspiracy alleged by the Department of Justice allows prosecutors to include allegations of victims who are not based in the United States.
None of the six accused are currently in custody, but the Justice Department has in recent years eagerly indicted a foreign hacker in absentia with the aim of creating a message of deterrence.
“No country has armed its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, causing unprecedented damage gratuitously to seek small tactical advantages and satisfy outbursts of spite,” said US Deputy Attorney General John Demers , the most senior national security official in the justice ministry.
He called it “the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”
The indictment gives details of the hacks which in some cases had already received special attention for the havoc they had caused.
The controversy known as “Macron Leaks”, for example, was the leak of more than 20,000 emails related to Macron’s campaign in the 2017 election in the days leading up to his victory. The involvement of bots has raised questions about the possible involvement of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.
The leaks, which gained media attention in France, were shared by WikiLeaks and several alternative right activists on Twitter, Facebook and others.
Olympic organizers, target athletes
British officials said unit 74455 of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU carried out “cyber-reconnaissance” operations against Olympic Games organizers, logistics service providers and sponsors.
They said the activity included setting up fake websites and online accounts masquerading as key people to use in future hacking attempts.
More than 250 athlete medical records have been released and confidential data from some of the world’s biggest sports organizations – the Olympics, world athletics, FIFA – has been stolen in what US prosecutors have called retaliation for anti-doping sanctions.
“The actions of the GRU against the Olympic and Paralympic Games are cynical and reckless. We condemn them in the strongest terms, ”said British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
Other organizations linked to the Olympics have also been hit by hackers: the world athletics body, which suspended Russia in 2015 for widespread doping; Canada’s Anti-Doping Agency, a scathing critic of Russia; the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled against some Russian athletes. Moscow has repeatedly denied these allegations.
Russia was banned from the world’s biggest sporting events for four years in December due to widespread doping offenses, including the Tokyo Games, originally scheduled for this year, but have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.