DOJ Announced Indictment of Russian Intelligence Officers for Election Hacking Offenses
The Department of Justice has announced that a District of Columbia grand jury has indicted 12 Russian nationals for committing federal crimes interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to reports, all 12 are members of the GRU, a Russian Federation intelligence agency within the Russian military, hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and Clinton presidential campaign.
“The Internet allows foreign adversaries to attack America in new and unexpected ways,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “Together with our law enforcement partners, the Department of Justice is resolute in its commitment to locate, identify and seek to bring to justice anyone who interferes with American elections. Free and fair elections are hard-fought and contentious, and there will always be adversaries who work to exacerbate domestic differences and try to confuse, divide, and conquer us. So long as we are united in our commitment to the shared values enshrined in the Constitution, they will not succeed.”
According to the Department of Justice, in 2016 officials began spearphishing volunteers and employees of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, including the campaign’s chairman. According to FTC defense lawyer Richard B. Newman, spearphishing is a hacking trick whereby individuals are targeted to reveal information that can be used to infiltrate a company or government agency.
The DoJ press release states that they were then able to steal usernames and passwords for individuals to steal email content and hack into other computers. The DoJ has also stated that they were able to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee through these spearphishing techniques to steal emails and documents, monitor computer activity of employees and implant malicious computer code to steal passwords.
The DoJ also states that the plan was to release stolen documents for the purpose of interfering with the 2016 presidential election. The release was on a website that claimed to be “American hacktivists” and used via social media accounts with fictitious names. After public accusations that the Russian government was behind the hacking of DNC and DCCC computers, the DoJ reports that the defendants created a fictitious persona who claimed to be a Romanian hacker in the hopes of undermining the allegations of Russian involvement.
Reports are that there were plans to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and US companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of elections to steal voter data.
In order to avoid detection, reports are that defendants used false identities while using a network of computers located around the world, including the United States, paid for with cryptocurrency through mining bitcoin and other means intended to obscure the origin of the funds.
The indictment includes 11 criminal counts.
Count One alleges a criminal conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States through cyber operations by the GRU that involved the staged release of stolen documents for the purpose of interfering with the 2016 president election. Counts Two through Nine charge aggravated identity theft for using identification belonging to eight victims to further their computer fraud scheme. Count Ten alleges a conspiracy to launder money in which the defendants laundered the equivalent of more than $95,000 by transferring the money that they used to purchase servers and to fund other costs related to their hacking activities through cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Count Eleven charges conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States by attempting to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and US companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of elections.
There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity or knew they were communicating with Russian intelligence officers. There is also no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the 2016 election.
Richard B. Newman is an advertising compliance lawyer and FTC defense attorney at Hinch Newman LLP focusing on advertising and digital media matters. You can visit his firms FTC ad law website at https://ftcdefenselawyer.com/ or following him on LinkedIn.
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