The United States and the United Kingdom have launched a coordinated response to counteract a long-standing Russian government hacking campaign, allegedly aimed at undermining democratic processes in both nations. Russian spies, according to officials, have been targeting British MPs, peers, civil servants, journalists, and others since 2015 in a concerted effort to meddle in British politics.
Leo Docherty, a Foreign Office minister, informed the House of Commons that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is behind these sustained interference efforts. The intrusions have involved targeting personal email accounts and impersonation attempts against universities, media organizations, and political figures. The US Justice Department revealed that the conspiracy targeted employees of various government departments and defense contractors since 2016.
A US federal grand jury in San Francisco has indicted two Russian nationals, allegedly running this campaign on behalf of the Russian government. These individuals, also sanctioned by the UK, are accused of hacking into computer networks in the US, UK, other NATO countries, Ukraine, and engaging in cyber espionage.
US Attorney Ismail Ramsey emphasized the importance of this indictment as part of an international response to disrupt cyber espionage actors, particularly those seeking government information and attempting to disrupt democratic processes. The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of these individuals.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has warned of an “enduring and significant threat” from Russian and other state-sponsored hackers. Russia, identified as one of the most prolific state actors in cybercrime, has dedicated substantial resources to conducting hacking operations internationally. The UK government accused the Russian intelligence agency of attempting to interfere in its democratic processes, and added two Russian nationals to its sanctions list.
Centre 18, a unit within the FSB, along with a subordinate group called Star Blizzard, has been involved in the hacking activities, targeting British parliamentarians from multiple parties and selectively leaking sensitive information. These attacks, according to Docherty, are a part of Russia’s strategy of confrontation.
The response by the US and UK governments includes improved preventive measures against cyber-targeting and heightened vigilance. This collaborative effort marks a significant step in exposing and countering Russia’s covert cyber activities, seeking to uphold the integrity of democratic processes in both countries.