On October 4, 2018, seven Russian hackers were indicted for hacking in relation to the Russian Olympic doping scandal. Beginning in 2014, these individuals allegedly hacked into the computer networks of the organizations charged with investigating and putting an end to Russian athletic doping. They were specifically charged with stealing and publicizing the personal information of officials that were a part of anti-doping agencies, as well as stealing and publicizing medical information from 250 athletes from the U.S. and 29 other countries, including modifying medical information to make it appear as if some non-Russian athletes were doping when they were not. Additional charges include conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Some of the methods used by the Russian hackers were spear-phishing, distributed denial of service attacks (hackers accomplish a DDoS attack by literally sending so much web traffic at a target that it is unable to function), spoofing legitimate web domains, and using cryptocurrencies to cover their tracks.
The motive of this hacking charged in the indictment was apparently in revenge for revealing the nature of Russia’s state-sponsored athlete doping program, which resulting in Russian athletes participation being limited during the 2016 Olympics and banned from the 2018 Olympics. According to Assistant Attorney General John Demers of the National Security Division, the goal of the state-sponsored Russian hackers was “to pursue [Russia’s] interests through illegal influence and disinformation operations aimed at muddying or altering perceptions of the truth.”
The indictment names all seven hackers as members of the Russian Federation intelligence agency (a.k.a. GRU) housed in the intelligence directorate of the Russian military. Three out of the seven were also charged as part of the Mueller investigation. The Mueller investigation is an investigation headed by the former director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. There is widespread concern that Russian hackers hacked the Democratic National Convention to compromise the infrastructure of the 2016 US election.
While none of the Russians that were charged in the Olympic doping indictment were arrested because they are Russian nationals living in Russia, authorities say that these charges make it difficult for them to travel, and they will no longer have the benefit anonymity. “These activities by Russian GRU officers move well beyond acceptable government intelligence operations. The GRU is breaking traditional international norms—and the law—in using cyber tools and resources in the fashion that they have,” said FBI Cyber Division Deputy Assistant Director Eric Welling. “The FBI considers any criminal activity conducted by nation-state actors, especially those leading to the violation of Americans’ privacy or interference in our economy, to be a matter of national security.”
Russian hackers also were recently alleged to have been involved in hacking into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in April. This crime was carried out in the Netherlands and was specifically designed to target an organization that was analyzing the nerve agent that British authorities said was used in an assassination attempt by Russian assassins against a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
– Matthew Christie