Russian hackers accused of attempting to disrupt the Olympic Games and French elections

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Six current and former Russian military officers have sought to disrupt France’s elections, the Winter Olympics, and U.S. hospitals and businesses through computer hacking, an unsealed U.S. Department of Justice indictment said Monday. It details the destructive attacks on a wide range of targets and involves the same Kremlin unit that intervened in the 2016 US election.The indictment accuses the defendants, all suspected officers of the Russian military agency known as GRU, with hacks which prosecutors say were aimed at promoting the geopolitical interests of the Kremlin and revenge on its alleged enemies .

They include attacks on the Ukrainian electricity grid; a hacking and flight effort directed against the political party of French President Emmanuel Macron in the days leading up to the 2017 elections; efforts to punish Olympic organizers who banned Russian athletes for doping, and to prevent an investigation into suspected nerve poisoning of a former spy and his daughter.

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.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers, center, with FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, left, and FBI Special Agent in charge of the Pittsburgh Field Office Michael Christman, the charges announced to the Justice Department on Monday. (Andrew Harnik / Pool via The Associated Press)

“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 six Russians are accused of hacking with the aim of disrupting the French elections, the Winter Olympics and American hospitals and businesses. (Andrew Harnik / Pool via The Associated Press)

“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.

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