US charges 12 Russians for hacking Democratic party in 2016

The US Department of Justice has announced that 12 employees of the Russian intelligence service GRU have been charged with carrying out internet attacks on the Democratic party and releasing documents under pseudonyms, such as Guccifer 2.0.

According to the ministry, it concerns twelve Russians who are all employed by the military intelligence service GRU. They would be responsible for hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, aka the DNC and DCCC. They would then have published looted documents under various aliases, including DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. Under the latter name, a person who claimed to be working alone put hundreds of DNC documents online in 2016. The charges are the result of an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. In February, he already indicted thirteen Russians for influencing the presidential elections.

The indictment states that the suspects first sent targeted phishing emails to the leader of the then candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It contained a call to change a password, after which the target ended up on a specially created page. This is how the attackers would have obtained 50,000 e-mails. During the summer of 2016, phishing emails were also sent to other campaign workers, according to the indictment. In addition, the GRU employees are said to have penetrated networks of the DNC and DCCC. The document lists running network scans as one of its activities. The malware used was X-Agent. This name came out earlier in an analysis by the FBI.

The indictment also states that the organizations found out in May that they had been hacked and then engaged a security company, which, among other things, had to remove the malware from the systems. Still, the Linux version of X-Agent went unnoticed until October of that year. Another detail in the indictment is that it is alleged that shortly before the publication of a ‘Guccifer’ blog post, GROe employees searched for English words that appeared later in his text.

The indictment cites a total of 11 offenses, including influencing the presidential election, identity theft and money laundering. The ministry explicitly states that influencing the number of votes or the outcome of the election is not part of the charges. Also, no American would have knowingly participated in the actions. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2016 that Russia was not involved in the attacks on the Democratic party.

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