US indicts seven Russian military intel agents in global hacking conspiracy

Assistant US Attorney General for National Security John Demers (R)announces indictments against seven Russian military intelligence agents in a global hacking conspiracy (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: The US Justice Department Thursday indicted seven agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency as part of a joint crackdown with allies Britain and the Netherlands on a series of major hacking plots attributed to Moscow.

The US indictments were announced as Dutch security services said they had thwarted a Russian attack on the global chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, and after Britain blamed the GRU for plots that notably targeted the US Democratic Party and world sport’s anti-doping authority.

John Demers, US Assistant Attorney General for National Security, confirmed that known attack targets included the OPCW, sports bodies including FIFA and the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), as well as US nuclear energy company Westinghouse.

“Nations like Russia and others that engage in malicious and norm-shattering cyber and influence activities should understand the continuing and steadfast resolve of the United States and its allies to prevent, disrupt and deter such unaccountable conduct,” Demers told a news conference.

“The defendants, in this case, should know that justice is very patient, its reach is long and its memory is even longer,” he said.

The indictments include charges of money laundering, using virtual currencies like bitcoin, wire fraud and identity theft.

Demers said the operations “involved sophisticated, persistent and unauthorized access into the victims’ computer networks for the purpose of stealing private or otherwise sensitive information.”

While the latest case did not arise from Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling, it overlaps with it — including the identity of the individuals charged, Demers said.

In July this year, Mueller indicted 12 GRU officers, accusing them of interfering in the US polls in 2016.

Canada confirmed Thursday it believes itself to have been targeted by Russian cyber attacks, citing breaches at its centre for ethics in sports and at the Montreal-based WADA.

“The government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the Russian military’s intelligence arm, the GRU, was responsible” for these cyber attacks, the foreign ministry said in a statement.