UK Alleges Long-Term Russian Cyberattacks Aimed at Lawmakers and Individuals:
The British government alleges that Russia’s intelligence service has been conducting a prolonged series of cyberattacks on prominent politicians, government officials, journalists, and various individuals. These actions were labeled as “unsuccessful attempts” aimed at meddling in the political processes within the United Kingdom.
The announcement, made alongside allies like the United States, involved indictments and sanctions against Russia. It was meant to warn that Russia plans to create confusion and uncertainty before the elections in the United States and Britain.
On Thursday, the British Foreign Office stated that a group, highly likely associated with the Russian intelligence service, has been involved in consistent cyber spying operations. These activities included spear-phishing attacks, involving malicious emails, directed at politicians from various political backgrounds. The operations reportedly commenced as far back as 2015.
According to the Foreign Office, this group also strategically released and amplified specific information to align with Russia’s objectives of confrontation. This included efforts to undermine trust in the political landscape of the UK and other countries with similar perspectives. These findings were derived from an investigation conducted by Britain’s intelligence agency.
Prior to Britain’s 2019 general election, certain information—such as hacked trade documents between Britain and the United States—was leaked. The government highlighted that this cyber operation didn’t just focus on political entities but also targeted universities, journalists, the public sector, charities, and various organizations. The government issued a warning, stating that while Russia’s efforts to destabilize democracy hadn’t succeeded yet, they are anticipated to persist in the future.
Russia has not promptly responded to these accusations, maintaining its previous denial of involvement in state-sponsored attacks against other nations or entities.
The British statement also connected a 2018 hack of the Institute for Statecraft, a British research organization focusing on disinformation, with a 2021 hack of one of the organization’s founders, resulting in compromised account information. “In both cases, leaked documents followed,” as stated in the report.
The group identified by British authorities, often referred to as Star Blizzard has a history of executing “hack and leak” campaigns. These involve stealing information and subsequently releasing it to the public to shape public opinion in targeted countries. Microsoft, which has been monitoring this group since 2017, made this assessment last year.
Before initiating an attack, the group is reported to carry out extensive reconnaissance on their intended targets. This involves identifying contacts within their social networks or what Microsoft refers to as their “sphere of influence.” Subsequently, using the gathered information, the group creates counterfeit LinkedIn profiles, email addresses, and social media accounts to deceive their targets into communicating with them. Ultimately, they introduce infected files within these communications to gain access to the target’s data.
F.B.I. officials stated on Thursday that the group’s activities didn’t seem directly tied to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections. However, these actions were seen as part of President Vladimir V. Putin’s wider campaign to erode trust in democratic institutions.
For over a decade, these hacks have mirrored a consistent pattern in Russian behavior. Groups aligned with Russia have faced accusations of infiltrating various entities, including government agencies, multinational corporations, and other organizations in both the United States and Europe. Coupled with disinformation campaigns online, these intrusions aimed to sway elections, engage in espionage, and foster social discord within Western democracies.
Despite efforts by the United States and European allies to strengthen their cyberdefenses, the attacks revealed on Thursday highlight how even a minor error by an individual—such as clicking on or downloading malicious files—can undermine these protections.
David Cameron, the newly appointed foreign secretary of Britain, who formerly held the position of the country’s prime minister, emphasized in a statement that Russia’s endeavors “to meddle in U.K. politics are entirely unacceptable and pose a threat to our democratic processes.”
He stated, “Despite their persistent attempts, they have not succeeded. By imposing sanctions on those accountable and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are unveiling their malevolent attempts to influence and highlighting yet another instance of Russia’s modus operandi on the world stage.”
Apart from summoning the Russian ambassador to Britain, the British government revealed sanctions targeting two individuals associated with Star Blizzard. According to the government, this group was “highly likely subservient” to Center 18, an entity within the F.S.B., Russia’s Intelligence Services, alleged to oversee the cyberespionage operations.
The individuals specified in the sanctions are Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, identified by Britain as a Russian F.S.B. intelligence officer and a member of Star Blizzard, along with Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets, also acknowledged as a member of Star Blizzard.
In collaboration with British authorities, U.S. prosecutors unveiled indictments against the two individuals on Thursday, alleging Moscow’s involvement in an extensive spearfishing campaign aimed at hacking into the accounts of American government officials spanning from 2016 to 2022.
Ismail J. Ramsey, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, levied charges of conspiracy to commit computer and wire fraud against both men, carrying a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison if apprehended, tried, and convicted. However, officials admitted the likelihood of this scenario was remote.