1 of 2 | Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, an officer in Russia's Federal Security Service, is wanted by the United States government for his alleged involvement in a wide-ranging, international hacking conspiracy. Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department/Release
Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The United States and Britain announced punitive measures against two Russian hackers on Thursday as they exposed a Kremlin-backed cyber conspiracy that targeted London's democracy.
The pair hit with sanctions and charges have been identified by U.S. and British officials as Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, an officer in Russia's Federal Security Service, and Russian IT worker Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets.
They are accused of coordinating an operational malicious cyber unit within the FSB known as the Callisto Group. The U.S. Justice Department said the unit engaged in a sophisticated, global spear phishing campaign to gain access to computers and email accounts of victims, who include government officials of allied nations as well as those of NATO and Ukraine, think tank researchers and journalists.
The U.S. indictment also identifies employees of the U.S. intelligence community, departments of Defense and State, contractors and Department of Energy facilities as having been among the defendant's alleged targets between October 2016 and October 2022.
Spear phishing is a cyberattack that seeks to acquire sensitive information or access to a computer by sending counterfeit messages that are spoofed to appear legitimate, according to the Director of National Intelligence.
The court document states the defendants were able to gain unauthorized access to intelligence related to U.S. defense, foreign affairs and security policies as well as nuclear energy-related technology, research and development, which "would be particularly valuable to Russian government efforts to engage in malign foreign influence within the United States."
At the same time, British officials said the group, which also goes by other names, including Star Blizzard, has used its malicious tools to specifically target its democratic processes.
Britain's National Cyber Security Center said the group has targeted members of Parliament from at least 2015, and officials blame it for leaking compromising U.S.-Britain trade documents to the press ahead of elections in 2019.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement that the United States stands with Britain "as it confronts such threats and call on all states to refrain from malicious cyber activity designed to destabilize and undermine democratic processes and societies."
However, Russia's embassy to London has rejected the accusations that it has targeted Britain's democratic processes, stating London has "invented claims of Russia conducting cyberattacks."
"Clearly, these actions are purely opportunistic and politically motivated in nature," the embassy said.
Both Washington and London on Thursday sanctioned Peretyatko and Korinets, while the U.S. Justice Department has charged them with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States.
The U.S. State Department has also offered a reward of up to $10 million for information that leads to the identification or location of either suspect, both of who remain at large.
The United States and the United Kingdom stand together, steadfast against the Kremlin and its state-sponsored malicious cyber groups' efforts to target our democracies," said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson.
"We will continue to leverage our collective tools and authorities to protect our citizens, our government networks, and our democratic processes."