Tue | Dec 1, 2020

6 Russian military officers charged in vast hacking campaign

Published:Monday | October 19, 2020 | 5:05 PM
A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed as Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers (left) takes the podium to speak at a news conference at the Department of Justice, Monday, October 19, 2020, in Washington. Also pictured is US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady, center. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, pool)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department announced charges Monday against Russian intelligence officers in a string of global 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 destabilising 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 criminal cases have focused on targets including 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 election.

The attacks in this case are “some of the most destructive, most costly, most egregious cyber attacks ever known,” said Scott Brady, the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the 50-page indictment was filed.

“Time and again, Russia has made it clear: They will not abide by accepted norms, and instead, they intend to continue their destructive, destabilising 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 military 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 US, 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 candidates will be counted for that candidate.”

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