Skip to main content

A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed before a news conference at the Department of Justice, in Washington, on Oct. 19, 2020.

Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

The Justice Department announced charges Monday against Russian intelligence officers in a string of global cyberattacks that targeted a French presidential election, the Winter Olympics in South Korea and American businesses. The case implicates the same Kremlin unit that interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, but is not related to the November vote.

The indictment accuses the six defendants, all said to be current and former officers in the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, of hacks that prosecutors say were aimed at furthering the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests and in destabilizing or punishing perceived enemies. All told, the attacks caused billions of dollars in losses and disrupted a broad cross-section of life, including health care in Pennsylvania, a power grid serving hundreds of thousands of customers in Ukraine and a French election that saw the late-stage disclosure of hacked emails.

The seven-count indictment is the most recent in a series of Justice Department prosecutions of Russian hackers, often working on behalf of the government. Past criminal cases have focused on targets including internet giant Yahoo and the 2016 presidential contest, when Russian hackers from the GRU stole Democratic emails that were released online in the weeks before the election.

Story continues below advertisement

The attacks in this case are “some of the most destructive, most costly, most egregious cyber attacks ever known,” said Scott Brady, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the 50-page indictment was filed.

“Time and again, Russia has made it clear: They will not abide by accepted norms, and instead, they intend to continue their destructive, destabilizing cyber behaviour,” said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.

The indictment does not charge the defendants in connection with interference in American elections, though the officers are part of the same military intelligence unit that prosecutors say interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. One of the six charged in the case announced Monday was among the Russian military intelligence officers charged with hacking in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

The timing of the indictment was unrelated to the upcoming election in the U.S., said Assistant Attorney General John Demers. He said that despite ongoing warnings of Russian interference in the election, Americans “should be confident that a vote cast for their candidates will be counted for that candidate.”

The hacking targets described in Monday’s case is diverse, with the indictment fleshing out details about hacks that in some instances had already received significant attention for the havoc they had caused.

It accuses the officers, for instance, of hacking into the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea after Russia was punished by the International Olympic Committee for a vast doping conspiracy. According to the indictment, the hackers conducted a malicious software attack during the opening ceremony in February 2018 that deleted data from thousands of computers related to the event and left them inoperable. Russia tried to blame it on North Korea, the officials said.

Another attack was aimed at disrupting the 2017 presidential election in France through hacks that targeted local government entities, campaigns and political parties, including the party of current President Emmanuel Macron.

Story continues below advertisement

The controversy known as the “Macron Leaks” involved the leak of over 20,000 emails linked to Macron’s campaign in the days before his victory. The involvement of bots raised questions about the possible involvement of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. The leaks, which gained huge media attention in France, were shared by WikiLeaks and several alt-right activists on Twitter, Facebook and others.

Other attacks targeted international investigators looking into into the suspected nerve agent poisoning of former Russian Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom, as well as the country of Georgia, where roughly 15,000 websites were defaced.

“In many cases,” the indictment says, “the Conspirators replaced website home pages with an image of a former Georgian president, who was known for his efforts to counter Russian influence in Georgia, along with the caption, `I’ll be back.”'

Beyond that, though, the hacks had harmful impacts on quality-of-life for everyday citizens. The attacks in Ukraine, for instance, disrupted the power supply in the middle of winter for hundreds of thousands of customers, officials say.

And the global malware attack known as NotPetya harmed the operations of a health care system that serves tens of thousands of people in western Pennsylvania, causing work stations to be locked, hard drives to be encrypted and leaving laboratory records and other files inaccessible.

The six defendants face charges including conspiracy to conduct computer fraud and abuse, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. None is currently in custody, but the Justice Department in recent years has eagerly charged foreign hackers in absentia in countries including Russia, China and Iran with the goal of creating a message of deterrence.

Story continues below advertisement

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages as fits of spite,” said Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies