The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday announced that a grand jury in the District of Columbia returned an indictment charging twelve Russian nationals for committing federal crimes that were intended to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
All twelve defendants are members of the GRU, a Russian Federation intelligence agency within the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian military, according to a statement by the DOJ.
According to the allegations in the indictment the units engaged in active cyber operations to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. One GRU unit worked to steal information, while another unit worked to disseminate stolen information.
These GRU officers, in their official capacities, engaged in a sustained effort to hack into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, and released that information on the internet under the names “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0” and through another entity, the DOJ stated.
The defendants allegedly used two techniques to steal information. First, they used a scam known as “spearphishing,” which involves sending misleading email messages and tricking users into disclosing their passwords and security information. Second, the defendants hacked into computer networks and installed malicious software that allowed them to spy on users and capture keystrokes, take screenshots, and exfiltrate data.
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; and
- 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.
“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.”
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. Also, there is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the vote count or changed the outcome of the 2016 election.