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US indicts Russians over hacking campaign against US intelligence officials and effort to interfere in UK election | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker | #hacking | #aihp


The US Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against one Russian intelligence officer and one Russian IT worker for conducting a years-long cyber-espionage campaign against current and former US government officials, and interfering in a national election in the United Kingdom.

In the UK, the two Russian operatives were part of “sustained unsuccessful attempts to interfere in UK political processes” over several years that hacked politicians, civil servants and journalists, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement. British diplomats have summoned the Russian ambassador to the UK and condemned the alleged interference activity, Leo Docherty, a UK Foreign Office minister, said in a statement to parliament.

The two Russian men — Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, an officer with the FSB intelligence service, and IT worker Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets — also tried to hack numerous current and former US intelligence and Defense Department employees, as well as those at the State and Energy Department, from 2016 to 2022, according to the US indictment unsealed in federal court in San Francisco.

In some cases, the hackers successfully breached victims’ email accounts and stole “valuable intelligence” related to US defense and security policies, foreign affairs, as well as information on nuclear energy technology, the US indictment alleges. That stolen intelligence “would be particularly valuable to the Russian government’s efforts to engage in malign foreign influence” in the US, the indictment says.

The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The US Treasury Department announced sanctions against Peretyatko and Korinets, and the State Department offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the identification and location of the men. The men live in Russia, US officials said, meaning the prospect of them appearing in a US court room is slim.

It’s the latest attempt by the US and its allies to expose alleged Russian hacking and influence operations in an effort to make them less impactful. It comes as US officials brace for sustained foreign interference efforts in the 2024 US presidential election.

A successor to the Soviet-era KGB, the FSB has multiple elite hacking teams at its disposal that it uses to surveil Russian citizens, interfere in foreign politics and burrow into US critical infrastructure, according to US officials and private sectors.

In this case, Peretyatko and Korinets are accused of being part of an FSB plot to cause havoc ahead of the 2019 UK general election in part by leaking hacked documents on US-UK trade negotiations.

Ciaran Martin, the former head of UK government’s National Cyber Security Centre, told CNN that the hack-and-leak operation did not create the divisions in UK society around the election that the Russians apparently were hoping for.

“The most heartening aspect of this story is the way different parts of the British system pulled together,” said Martin, who is now managing director at investment firm Paladin Capital Group. “The adversaries targeted people from across the political spectrum,” including a leading Scottish nationalist member of parliament, Martin said.

“Crucially, rather than seek to exploit this for political gain, the Conservative Government, through Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, treated the operation as a serious threat to our democratic system,” he added.

Whether a sharply divided US political system will react in a similar way to potential Russian hack-and-leak operations in 2024 remains to be seen. Hackers backed by Russian military intelligence leaked troves of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 election, according to US officials and private experts, causing a stir in the US media for many weeks.

Don Smith, vice president of threat research at cybersecurity firm Secureworks, who has tracked the indicted FSB hacking group for years, called them a “persistent irritant” that conduct “Russian information operations straight out of the textbook.”

From straightforward hack-and-leak operations to standing up their own websites to launder information aimed at UK readers, the Russian group’s “attempts to weaponize stolen information have evolved over that time,” Smith, who regularly confers with UK officials on cyber threats, told CNN.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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