UK Accuses Russian Military Intelligence of Orchestrating Global Cyber Attacks

Posted October 05, 2018

U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers listens during a press conference to announce an indictment charging seven Russian military officers with malicious cyber activities against the U.S. and its allies at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018.

Russian intelligence service, the GRU, has been accused of launching a cyber attack on the global chemical weapons watchdog which is investigating the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Ministry of Defence handout photo of four GRU officers.

Moscow on Thursday rejected the accusations, saying they were unworthy and part of a disinformation campaign created to damage Russian interests.

Dutch intelligence thwarted a Russian cyber attack targeting the global chemical weapons watchdog in April and expelled four Russian agents, the government said on Thursday.

Around that time the OPCW was working to independently verify the United Kingdom's analysis of the chemical weapons used in the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury'.

The Dutch government said the Russians were later found with a vehicle full of electronic equipment in the auto park of a hotel close to the OPCW building.

The men hired a vehicle filled with specialised equipment, including an antenna which was hidden under a coat in the boot, to try and hack the wifi network of the OPCW. Dutch investigators said the snoopers nabbed outside the OPCW also appear to have logged into the Wi-Fi networks near the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Malaysian hotels where crash investigators had gathered to investigate the shooting down of passenger flight MH17.

He said the agents had planned to target an OPCW in laboratory in Switzerland too.

The four men travelled into Amsterdam using diplomatic passports, and were escorted by a member of the Russian embassy in the Netherlands. They were carrying €20,000 and United States $20,000 in cash, took their rubbish from their hotel room when they left and tried to destroy their mobile phones when they were intercepted. Moscow has denied the charge.

While not directly related to the ongoing investigation into suspected Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ's national security division, said during a press conference Thursday that three of the named defendants were previously charged in connection with that probe.

The US indictment said the GRU targeted its victims because they had publicly supported a ban on Russian athletes in worldwide sports competitions and because they had condemned Russia's state-sponsored athlete doping program.

According to the indictment, operations were running from December 2014 until at least May this year, and involved "persistent and sophisticated computer intrusions" based on strategic interest to the Russian government.

The case also overlaps with US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling, with two of the men targeted on Thursday having featured in an earlier indictment on interference in the US polls.

The NCSC says that hackers from the GRU have operated using various names, including APT28, BlackEnergy Actors, Fancy Bear, and Tsar Team.

The West appeared to have made a coordinated response to the alleged Russian hacking, with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation chief Jens Stoltenberg separately warning Russia to halt its "reckless" behaviour and the European Union condemning "aggressive" Russian spying.

Earlier, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson branded a series of global cyber attacks blamed on Russian Federation as the reckless actions of a "pariah state", saying that Britain and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies would uncover such activities in the future.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the new accusations Thursday, calling them "big fantasies". "And that's what happened today", he told reporters in Saskatchewan.