Russia cyber attacks aimed at destabilising democracies around the world

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Russian spies launched a global cyber war to interfere with three elections, the Olympics, the MH17 investigation and the hunt for the men behind the Skripal attack in Salisbury, it was revealed today.

The Kremlin has been accused of using its agents to ‘foster instability’ in democracies around the world as their operations over the past three years were laid bare.

Targets included the metro and airports in Ukraine, police in Malaysia investigating claims the Russians shot down MH17 killing 300 passengers and even the emails of a small UK TV station. 

Their hacking missions were inadvertently revealed by the four bungling spies caught in The Hague trying to hack into computers used by chemical weapons inspectors investigating Russian attacks in Salisbury and Syria.

Cyber expert Evgenii Serebriakov’s laptop was seized and revealed he kept selfies from previous operations including at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil where Russian athletes’ doping samples were tampered with and US athletes’ medical records leaked.

His laptop contained WiFi logins and other evidence that also linked the men to cyber attacks in Switzerland and America, Denmark and Germany.

They even kept receipts in their hire car that showed that the unit travelled from the GRU’s Moscow headquarters to the airport for a flight to Amsterdam – linking them to the very heart of Putin’s government.

Britain’s Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Wilson said today: ‘The GRU has interfered in three elections and pursued a hostile campaign of cyber attacks’, adding the Russians can no longer be allowed to act with ‘apparent impunity’ 

Details were revealed on Thursday after the UK Government accused the GRU of a wave of other cyber attacks across the globe.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the operation ‘further shone a light on the unacceptable cyber activities’ of the GRU and demonstrated its ‘disregard for the global values and rules that keep us safe’.

The team of four GRU officers travelling on official Russian passports entered the Netherlands on April 10.

On April 13 they parked a car carrying specialist hacking equipment outside the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague.

At that point Dutch counter-terrorism officers intervened to disrupt the operation and the four GRU officers were ordered to leave the country.

The ‘close access’ hacking attempt followed a failed ‘spearphishing attack’ on the OPCW headquarters.

Two of the officers were planning to travel on to Switzerland where the OPCW – which was at the time investigating the Salisbury attack and a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria – has laboratories.

Dutch authorities released CCTV images of the four men arriving at Schiphol Airport as well photographs of their passports.

They were named in them as Alekski Morenets, described as a cyber operator, Evgenii Serebriakov, also a cyber operator, Oleg Soktnikov, described as humint (human intelligence) support, and Alexey Minin, also humint support.

The attempt on the OPCW headquarters followed unsuccessful ‘spearphishing’ attacks by the GRU on the UK Foreign Office and on the defence laboratories at Porton Down, which was also investigating the Salisbury attack.

Peter Wilson, the UK’s ambassador to the Netherlands, said the hacking attack happened when 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’.

Mr Wilson also accused one of the GRU officers escorted out of the Netherlands of targeting the Malaysian investigation into the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, when more than 300 people travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur died.

The OPCW has confirmed the toxic chemical that killed Dawn Sturgess in Amesbury was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal three months earlier.

UK authorities believe two Russians, using the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, smeared the highly toxic Novichok on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of Mr Skripal on March 4.

The attack left Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill, and Ms Sturgess, 44, who was later exposed to the same nerve agent, died in July.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the UK’s Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: ‘The catalogue of evidence shows why the Dutch are excellent partners and that the decades of theft have stripped Russia’s intelligence of the skills they once had. Putin’s corrupt greed has turned the GRU into an amateurish bunch of jokers.’

Earlier Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the GRU was waging a campaign of ‘indiscriminate and reckless’ cyber strikes targeting political institutions, businesses, media and sport.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said a number of hackers known to have launched attacks have been linked to the GRU.

The NCSC associated four new attacks with the GRU, on top of previous strikes believed to have been conducted by Russian intelligence.

Among targets of the GRU attacks were the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), transport systems in Ukraine, and democratic elections, such as the 2016 US presidential race, according to the NCSC.

The centre said it was ‘almost certainly’ the GRU behind a ‘BadRabbit’attack in October 2017 that caused disruption to the Kiev metro, Odessa airport and Russia’s central bank.

Britain’s cyber security chiefs say they have ‘high confidence’ Russian intelligence was responsible for a strike on Wada in August 2017.

The NCSC also said the GRU was ‘almost certainly’ to blame for hacking the Democratic National Committee during the US presidential election in 2016.

And the agency pointed the finger at the GRU for accessing email accounts at a small UK-based TV station in 2015.

Britain, America and The Netherlands today launched a carefully coordinated fightback against Putin’s army of hackers as the scale of Russia’s global cyber warfare was laid bare.

First, the UK accused Russia’s GRU intelligence agency of being behind hacks on the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), transport systems in Ukraine and democratic elections, such as the 2016 US presidential race.

Then, Dutch authorities revealed they had caught a team of Kremlin agents rigging up computers, phones and an antenna in the boot of a car to try and hack into the global chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague.

Then, this afternoon, the US Justice Department announced it has charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations.

The suspects, including some of The Hague cyber squad, are accused of hacking hundreds of people in 30 countries including people working in anti-doping organisation, for FIFA and staff at a US nuclear facility supplying power to Ukraine.

Five are also charged with aggravated identity theft, money laundering and using crypto-currencies illegally in transactions that occurred in part in US. Prosecutors said: ‘We want them to face trial and be put in jail’.

The Kremlin was left trying to bat away a growing flood of evidence of its hacking activities around the world, with some allegations dating back years.

 

 

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