US indicts seven Russian military intel agents in global hacking conspiracy

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing Street

Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said that the GRU's alleged hacking attempts on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons took place in April and were disrupted by authorities.

The Russians were tracked by Dutch and British secret services from their arrival in Amsterdam on diplomatic passports in April, and then seen hiring a Citroen auto which they parked outside the Marriott hotel next to the OPCW.

He said that in the days and weeks which followed the Salisbury attack in March, a group of GRU hackers in Russian Federation known as "Sandworm" had targeted both the UK Foreign Office and the Defence and Science Technology Laboratory at Porton Down which was investigating the incident.

It also revealed that the agents had also made searches for the OPCW-affiliated Spiez laboratory in Switzerland - which the Swiss last month said had been targeted by Russian Federation.

The robust Western government response to Russian hacking and interference could trigger a shake up in the way Moscow organises its spying, a top cyber researcher says.

Following the disclosure on October 4 by Dutch and British authorities of the identities of four Russian GRU operators, further database research has revealed 305 other individuals expected to be working for the Russian intelligence agency.

But the decision has come under scrutiny after the U.S. announced the same day that the four Russians were among seven people it had indicted over a global hacking conspiracy. According to the evidence produced on Thursday at a press conference hosted by Dutch and British officials, this hapless crew used publicly accessible Wi-Fi hotspots, meaning that their login details were easily traceable.

Russian Federation has consistently denied any involvement in the Skripal chemical attack and the shooting down of MH17.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, said calling out the actions of the GRU could act as a deterrence. When they were caught, the agency was investigating a suspected Russian nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Soviet spy who had defected to the United Kingdom, and his daughter.

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

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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was meeting with U.S. allies in Europe, said Russian Federation must pay a price for its "worldwide pattern of reckless and irresponsible behavior".

Meanwhile in a separate announcement yesterday Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) accused the GRU of being responsible for the Fancy Bears cyber attack on the World Anti-Doping Agency, which took place in September 2016.

The US also believes Russian Federation has meddled in its affairs and reacted by sanctioning GRU officers for attempted interference in the 2016 US election.

The UK, US and the Netherlands have accused Russian Federation of being responsible for a spate of global cyber attacks, with seven people being incited by the US.

His call was echoed by his British counterpart, Gavin Williamson, who said: "This is not the action of a great power".

"The Russian government needs to know that if they flout worldwide law in this way, there will be consequences, they will be exposed, and people will see the Russian government for what they are", he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department Thursday indicted seven agents of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency as part of a joint crackdown with Britain and the Netherlands on a series of major hacking plots attributed to Russian Federation.

John Demers, US Assistant Attorney General for National Security, confirmed the seven agents were indicted in connection to the attack on the OPCW, on football's governing body FIFA and the US and global anti-doping agencies, and on the US nuclear energy company Westinghouse among others.

British investigators concluded that the Russian government was behind the attack, and that two GRU operatives had been sent to England to carry out the attempted assassination.

All seven defendants are officers in the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the military intelligence agency of Russia's armed forces.

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