The US has charged six current and former members of Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) for allegedly carrying out some of the world’s most destructive hacking attacks from 2015 to last year, including knocking out Ukraine’s power grid and causing almost US$1 billion in damages to three US companies.
The hackers allegedly carried out attacks against the 2017 elections in France and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, according to an indictment unsealed by the US Department of Justice on Monday.
“According to the indictment, beginning in or around November 2015 and continuing until at least in or around October 2019, the defendants and their co-conspirators deployed destructive malware and took other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia, through unauthorized access to victim computers,” the department said.
One of the defendants was charged in 2018 by the US for hacking tied to the 2016 election.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Monday that GRU hackers had also conducted “cyberreconnaissance” operations against Tokyo Games organizers.
They declined to give specific details about the attacks or say if they were successful, but said they had targeted Tokyo organizers, logistics suppliers and sponsors.
The GRU hackers allegedly spread what is known as NotPetya malware, which damaged computers used for critical infrastructure, including impairing the administration of medical services by a hospital system in Pennsylvania.
The NotPetya attack also caused about US$400 million in damages to a subsidiary of FedEx Corp and more than US$500 million in damages to a large US pharmaceutical manufacturer, which the indictment did not identify.
None of the charges involved this year’s US presidential campaign, although the FBI and other agencies say that Russia has continued to try and interfere in US politics.
“No country has weaponized its cybercapabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and fits of spite,” John Demers, head of the department’s national security division, told reporters during a news conference on Monday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia “has never conducted any hacking attacks,” calling the charges a reflection of “blatant Russophobia.”
The hackers are part of a group known variously as “Sandworm Team” and “Voodoo Bear” among cybersecurity experts.
Their espionage and sabotage hacking operations are “highly advanced” and consistent with “Russian economic and national objectives,” Crowdstrike Inc said.
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