USA charges 7 Russians in hacking indictment; Britain blames GRU

Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images               The NCSC has judged the Kremlin is behind the actions of the GRU

Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images The NCSC has judged the Kremlin is behind the actions of the GRU

But a federal indictment announced on Thursday charges that Russian spies waged a long-running campaign to undermine investigations into doping activities by Russian athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The various accusations were announced at briefings around the globe that were held as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers gathered in Brussels to present a united front to their Cold War-era foe.

NATO's chief vowed on Thursday to strengthen the alliance's defences against attacks on computer networks that Britain said are directed by Russian military intelligence, also calling on Russia to stop its "reckless" behaviour.

Australia and New Zealand supported Britain's assessment of the GRU and pledged to improve cooperation on responses to cyber attacks.

Commentators say the revelations suggest that Russian spies have been surprisingly amateur in their operations - or that Moscow is becoming increasingly brazen in stepping up a hybrid cyber war on the West.

And now, the United Kingdom and the Dutch governments have revealed a huge amount of new intelligence about how the GRU has been operating across the world, namely its attempts to hack the OPCW chemical weapons inspectors' headquarters in the Hague, the computers of the Foreign Office in London and the work of the Porton Down military laboratories in Wiltshire.

The UK government accused the GRU of being behind four high-profile cyber-attacks, whose targets included firms in Russian Federation and Ukraine; the US Democratic Party; and a small TV network in the UK.

The men had planned to travel on to a laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland used by the OPCW to analyse samples.

"The Dutch government finds the involvement of these intelligence operatives extremely worrisome", Bijleveld said.

In a coordinated response the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and Britain's Ministry of Justice named the four men as Aleksei Morenets, Evgenii Serebriakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Aleksey Minin.

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The US Justice Department on Thursday charged seven Russian intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations hours after Western officials leveled new accusations against Moscow's secretive GRU military spy agency.

Citing the OPCW's mission of combating some of the world's most frightful weapons, Wilson said Russia's attack reflects "complete disregard for this vital mission".

"The GRU's actions are reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other countries; they are even prepared to damage Russian companies and Russian citizens", said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

'Our message is clear - together with our allies, we will expose and respond to the GRU's attempts to undermine global stability'.

In response, Putin described the two suspects as "civilians."

Skripal, his daughter and a police officer fell seriously ill; a woman later died after her partner found the poison in a discarded perfume bottle.

After the Skripal poisoning, dozens of Western countries launched the biggest expulsion of Russian spies working under diplomatic cover since the height of the Cold War. The incident caused an worldwide outcry, leading to Western nations expelling dozens of diplomats and deepening tensions between Moscow and the West.

In the indictment, prosecutors alleged that one of the Russian officers, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, who was also charged by Mueller in the election-related hacking, performed "technical reconnaissance" on Westinghouse to gain access to IP addresses, domains and network ports starting in November 2014.

Dutch officials added that GRU agents had logged into wifi networks near a Malaysian hotel where investigators had gathered. The International Paralympic Committee imposed a blanket ban on Russian athletes in its 2016 games.

"Today we are indicting seven GRU officers for multiple felonies each", said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement, "including the use of hacking to spread the personal information of hundreds of anti-doping officials and athletes as part of an effort to distract from Russia's state-sponsored doping program".

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