‘Most Destructive And Costly’ In History: DOJ Charges Russian Hackers For Massive Disruption Operations

The Department of Justice has accused six members of Russia’s military intelligence agency of carrying out cyber-attacks that have totaled nearly $1 billion worth of damage and disruption.

The charges were unveiled on Monday in an indictment from a Pennsylvania grand jury. The DOJ held a press conference shortly thereafter, making clear that the charges are focused on the six individuals and do not incriminate Moscow or the Russian GRU.

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. “Today the department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group, including by unleashing the NotPetya malware. No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

Several members of the same group were also charged with attempting to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The new charges are not associated with U.S. election interference, but with a variety of attacks on targets inside and outside the United States, including into computer systems supporting the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

While the Russian government was not included in the indictment, Justice officials made clear that the indictment was a rebuke on Moscow and its attempts to wage cyber warfare on others.

“This indictment lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries, thus providing a cold reminder of why its proposal is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda,” Demers said, according to ABC News.

The indictment covers alleged hackings from 2015 to 2019 that targeted the Ukrainian government, French elections, and hundreds of people involved in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The hackings also targeted several investigations underway by United Kingdom authorities, including one into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Skripal had served time in prison in Russia for allegedly acting as a spy for the U.K.

The hackers also reportedly used malware that caused “enormous financial losses” worldwide and hit two hospitals in Pennsylvania run by Heritage Valley Health System.

“The NotPetya malware impaired Heritage Valley’s provision of critical medical services to citizens of the Western District of Pennsylvania through its two hospitals, 60 offices, and 18 community satellite facilities,” the DOJ said in a press release. “The attack caused the unavailability of patient lists, patient history, physical examination files, and laboratory records. Heritage Valley lost access to its mission-critical computer systems (such as those relating to cardiology, nuclear medicine, radiology, and surgery) for approximately one week and administrative computer systems for almost one month, thereby causing a threat to public health and safety.”

“The FBI has repeatedly warned that Russia is a highly capable cyber adversary, and the information revealed in this indictment illustrates how pervasive and destructive Russia’s cyber activities truly are,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in a statement.

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