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Two Russians Charged with Hacking, Trying to Meddle in 2019 U.K. Election

Two Russian nationals have been charged with attempting to hack the computers of employees of multiple U.S. government agencies and allied countries around the world, in part to steal and release documents to interfere with elections in Britain in 2019.

U.S. officials said one of the men, Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko, is an officer in the FSB, the Russian intelligence service. Peretyatko was indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on Tuesday along with another man, Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets.

Together, the men are accused of coordinating the “Callisto Group,” which sent spear-phishing emails to current and former military and government officials, as well as think-tank employees, journalists and others, with the intention of hacking computers and releasing the information they were able to steal.

Officials said the two men are at large and believed to be in Russia. They are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both also face financial sanctions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The charges are the latest Justice Department action taken to disrupt Russian efforts to hack computers in the West and influence democratic elections in the United States and elsewhere. In 2018, 12 Russian intelligence officials were indicted and charged with hacking computers to interfere in the 2016 U.S.presidential election.

Officials said the Callisto Group was active from at least October 2016 through October 2022. Their alleged activities targeted a range of U.S. agencies, including intelligence agencies, the State Department and the Department of Energy. In some cases, officials said the hacking efforts were successful, including at the Department of Energy and think tanks in the U.K.

Among Callisto Group’s aims, officials said, was to conduct a malign influence campaign that would disrupt the U.K. elections in 2019,when Britain was trying to leave the European Union trade bloc and strike out on its own.They said Callisto Group, also known as Star Blizzard, works on behalf of a division of the Russian FSB called Center 18.

“Through this malign influence activity directed at the democratic processes of the United Kingdom, Russia again demonstrates its commitment to using weaponized campaigns of cyberespionage against such networks in unacceptable ways,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen.

The charges were unsealed on the same day that David Cameron, the U.K foreign secretary, is in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.

British officials summoned the Russian ambassador to brief him on the results of the joint investigation and complain about Russian cyber activities, which they described as an aggressive — but largely unsuccessful —campaign to disrupt British politics, dating to 2015, U.S. officials said.

In a statement, the Russian embassy called the allegations “invented claims,” adding that because of the“absence of concrete evidence it saw no reason to regard these insinuations as credible.”

British officials said the spear phishing campaign targeted multiple candidates for Parliament and included the stealing and releasing of British-U.S. trade documents before the 2019 election, in which trade was a key issue.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed to U.S.-U.K. trade documents —which he said he received through a Freedom of Information request — as evidence that Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party “were going to sell our National Health Service out to the United States and big pharma.”

The United States and Britain have still not signed a post-Brexit trade deal.

Source: Washington Post