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U.S. indicts Russian intelligence officers in global malware attacks

By Jean Lotus
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Assistant Attorney General John Demers (C), accompanied by FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich (L) and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Pittsburgh field office Michael Christman, speaks at a news conference Monday at the Department of Justice &nbsp; in Washington, D.C., on the indictments of six Russian officers. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/8d254dd0cc22a34236abae811c5d111c/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Assistant Attorney General John Demers (C), accompanied by FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich (L) and FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Pittsburgh field office Michael Christman, speaks at a news conference Monday at the Department of Justice   in Washington, D.C., on the indictments of six Russian officers. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S Department of Justice on Monday announced grand jury indictments of six Russian intelligence officers for cybercrimes, including disrupting the power grid in Ukraine, interfering in the French election and crashing computer systems around the world.

Federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh accused the men, members of the Russian security agency GRU who were operating out of a Moscow military unit, of carrying out the malware attacks between 2015 and 2019.

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The group, nicknamed the "Sandworm Team," "Telebots," "Voodoo Bear" and "Iron Viking," is also accused of meddling in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and hijacking government websites in the country of Georgia.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania said the GRU group developed malware that brought down the computers in two Pennsylvania hospitals and infected computers in 60 physician offices and 18 community satellite facilities belonging to the Heritage Valley Health System.

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U.S. attorneys from the Western District of Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh FBI field office joined federal agents at a press conference Monday to announce the indictments.

"For more than two years, we have worked tirelessly to expose these Russian GRU officers, who engaged in a global campaign of hacking, disruption and destabilization, representing the most destructive and costly cyberattacks in history," Scott Brady, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

"The crimes committed by Russian government officials were against real victims who suffered real harm. We have an obligation to hold accountable those who commit crimes -- no matter where they reside and no matter for whom they work -- in order to seek justice on behalf of these victims," he added.

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The accused men do not live in the United States and were listed as wanted by the FBI.

They were behind the creation and unleashing of the KillDisk and Industroyer cyber worms that crashed computers operating the Ukrainian power grid during the winter of 2017, leaving hundreds of thousands of Eastern European residents without heat.

Another cyberattack by the NotPetya worm quickly spread around the world to businesses and government agencies, causing $1 billion worth of financial losses at the Pennsylvania hospitals, as well as a large American drug company and a subsidiary of Federal Express, prosecutors said.

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The group also attempted to interfere in the 2017 French presidential election by hacking emails of staffers of Emmanuel Macron.

GRU hackers were accused in the indictment of sabotaging computers with the Olympic Destroyer cyberattack during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, as well as attacking computers belonging to the International Olympic Committee, Olympic partners and athletes, making it look as though North Korea was responsible.

The group also tried to interfere in the British investigation of the 2018 poisoning of former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter, according to the new charges.

The GRU was formerly accused in the 2018 probe by special counsel Robert Mueller of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although the new charges do not mention those activities.

The defendants were charged with conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud and identity theft. The indictment named them as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, 32; Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, 35; Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, 28; Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, 29; Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, 27; and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin, 32.

Kovalev was also charged in 2018 as part of the Mueller probe.

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John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, called the most recent computer attacks the "most disruptive and destructive" ever attributed to a single group.

"No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite," he said.

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