Russian secretive military intelligence unit is responsible for a new series of cybercrimes believed to have cost the global economy millions of dollars, said Western officials on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte condemned operatives from the GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, which have been identified by the Britain's National Cyber Security Centre to be behind the string of some high-profile incidents, including attacks against international chemical weapons watchdog, inspectors investigating the poisoning of a former spy in Britain and others examining the downing of a passenger jet in 2014.
"This is not the actions of a great power. This is the actions of a pariah state," said Britain's Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson.
The GRU's attack against the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons took place in April, said Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld. At that time, the OPCW was investigating the nerve agent attack against former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Attempts were disrupted by authorities, who immediately expelled four Russian intelligence officers from the Netherlands, Bijleveld said.
The British ambassador to the Netherlands said the men caught with spy gear outside the Hague-based OPCW were from the very same GRU section – unit 26165 – accused by American investigators of having broken into the US Democratic National Committee's email during the 2016 elections.
In regards to Russia's hacking attempts into the Malaysia’s plane crash investigation, Bijleveld said: "We have been aware of the interest of Russian intelligence services in this investigation and have taken appropriate measures." The Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all the passengers and crew members on board.
Australia and New Zealand claimed their own intelligence agencies had found evidence of Russian involvement in the same attacks on political, business, media and sports institutions. Britain, Australia and New Zealand are all members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance, which also includes the US and Canada.
NATO vowed to strengthen the allies’ defenses and halted Russia’s “reckless” behaviour as the United States announce it is making offensive cyber capabilities available to the alliance.
"Russia must stop its reckless pattern of behaviour, including the use of force against its neighbours, attempted interference in election processes, and widespread disinformation campaigns," said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement issued Thursday.
The 29 allies are discussing cybersecurity at talks in Brussels, with the US, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands due to announce they will provide offensive cyber-capabilities for use by NATO.
After the US Justice Department charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organisations, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States stands ready to help its NATO allies amid allegations that Russia's intelligence services launched a series of cyberattacks around the world.
"We are ready today to provide cyber-support to our allies. That is now," said Mattis after talks with his NATO counterparts on Thursday. "I've seen enough of the evidence to say the Dutch and the British are 100 percent accurate in who they've attributed this to."
Russian officials dismissed the accusations “as fantasies.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian parliament said the accusations are intended to "delegitimize Russia" and pave the way for using any illegitimate means against it. He argued that the West has picked up the GRU as "a modern analogue of the KGB which served as a bugaboo for people in the West during the Cold War."
Though unlikely to lead to arrests or convictions, the accusations represent the latest round of an international public shaming of the Kremlin by Western democracies.