The British government announced on Thursday that Russia’s intelligence agencies have engaged in cyberespionage against prominent British politicians, government officials, and journalists in a continued effort to interfere in U.K. politics over several years.
The Foreign Office stated that Russia’s FSB agency was accountable for various prolonged cyber espionage activities in the United Kingdom. These included targeting politicians from multiple political parties since 2015 until now, and strategically leaking and amplifying confidential information to benefit Russian objectives.
Leo Docherty, a minister from the Foreign Office, informed legislators that a cyber organization known as “Star Blizzard”, also referred to as Callisto Group or COLDRIVER, and believed by U.K. cybersecurity experts to be under the control of an FSB unit, utilized fake identities to pretend to be legitimate contacts and sent harmful links to their targets.
According to Docherty, they have been focusing on prominent people and organizations with a specific goal – utilizing gathered information to interfere in British political affairs.
According to him, the focus is not just on politicians, but also on public figures and various institutions. There have been cases of impersonation and efforts to hack into email accounts in government agencies, universities, media organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other parts of society.
Russian authorities did not provide a response to a query for comment regarding the accusations.
The 2018 cyber attack on the Institute for Statecraft, a think tank in the U.K. focused on protecting democracy from false information, was attributed to Star Blizzard by British officials. They also stated that the same group was responsible for hacking and releasing U.S.-U.K. trade documents in advance of the 2019 British general election.
The objective was to “erode confidence in politics in the United Kingdom and similar nations,” according to the government’s statement.
According to the Foreign Office, although certain attacks led to the release of documents, efforts to disrupt U.K. politics and democracy have not been effective.
On Thursday, the United Kingdom announced that sanctions had been placed on Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, a member of the FSB intelligence agency, and Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets, a member of Star Blizzard. This was due to their participation in activities known as spear-phishing operations.
On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department stated that criminal charges were filed against Peretyatko and Korinets for their involvement in the hacking scheme.
In addition to charging them with involvement in the 2019 email hack and release operation prior to the U.K. election, authorities in the United States claim that they and other unidentified co-conspirators aimed to access the personal accounts of U.S. government officials, including present and former staff members of the Department of Defense, Department of State, and intelligence agencies.
According to U.S. officials, the hacking attack aimed at gathering various types of data, such as diplomatic information, international relations, nuclear energy technology, and was occasionally effective.
The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are particularly worried about the accused hackers collaborating with the FSB division responsible for combating cybercrime. The officials requested anonymity as per the guidelines of the Justice Department.
According to the British Foreign Office, the Russian ambassador to the U.K. was requested to attend a meeting in order to address Britain’s worries about the meddling.
The statement from Foreign Secretary David Cameron denounced Russia’s actions to manipulate U.K. politics, calling them intolerable and a threat to our democratic systems. Despite multiple attempts, their efforts have proven unsuccessful.
When asked if British authorities have discovered the complete scope of cyber meddling, Docherty expressed confidence but reiterated that they will remain watchful leading up to elections in the U.K. and U.S. in the upcoming year.
According to U.S. officials, it is unlikely that the hackers will face legal consequences in the near future unless they leave Russia for a country that works with the U.S. legal system. However, both U.S. and British authorities stated that releasing information about these cases aims to discourage similar actions in the future.
This report was contributed to by Eric Tucker in Washington.