The UK government has accused Russia’s military intelligence service of being behind four high-profile cyber-attacks.
The National Cyber Security Centre says targets included firms in Russia and Ukraine; the US Democratic Party; and a small TV network in the UK.
World Anti-Doping Agency computers are also said to have been attacked.
Files later emerged showing how British cyclists Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome had used banned substances for legitimate medical reasons.
At the time, some of the attacks were linked to Russia – but this is the first time the UK has singled out the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service.
British police think the men who carried out the Salisbury poisoning in March worked for the same group.
The NCSC said it has assessed “with high confidence” that the GRU was “almost certainly responsible” for the cyber attacks.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the GRU had waged a campaign of “indiscriminate and reckless” cyber strikes that served “no legitimate national security interest”.
Cyber security consultant Andrew Tsonchev said individuals can get “caught up” in the attacks.
He said: “The more obvious and urgent effect that people need to be aware of is that the services they use – the essential services – are at risk and are actively being targeted for sabotage.”
What is the GRU accused of?
The NCSC says hackers from the GRU, operating under a dozen different names – including Fancy Bear – targeted:
- The systems database of the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), using phishing to gain passwords. Athletes’ data was later published
- The Democratic National Committee in 2016, when emails and chats were obtained and subsequently published online. The US authorities have already linked this to Russia
- Ukraine’s Kyiv metro and Odessa airport, Russia’s central bank, and two privately-owned Russian media outlets – Fontanka.ru and news agency Interfax – in October 2017. They used ransomware to encrypt the contents of a computer and demand payment.
- An unnamed small UK-based TV station between July and August 2015, when multiple email accounts were accessed and content stolen.
Former UK diplomat Lord Ricketts said it was likely the Russians targeted Wada “to distract from the very serious allegations about Russian athletes”, and targeted the Ukraine as they were trying to “destabilise” the region.
But he added other attacks seemed random and might have been part of a “pilot project” to “see what they can do at a point where they wanted to use” cyber warfare.
What has the UK government said?
“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.
“This pattern of behaviour demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.
“Our message is clear: together with our allies, we will expose and respond to the GRU’s attempts to undermine international stability.”
Lord Ricketts believes rather than the UK participating in an offensive cyber counterattack, the government should continue targeting “dodgy Russian money” with economic sanctions.