Sat, Nov 04, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Hackers had targets beyond US election, experts say

AP, WASHINGTON

Hackers belonging to the Fancy Bear group did not just go after former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.

They tried to break into the private e-mail of then-US secretary of state John Kerry, attempted to steal the private correspondence of a manager working on Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighter program and sought to break into the accounts of thousands of others, including the punk band Pussy Riot and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

About 19,000 lines of data, recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, show that Fancy Bear — the hacking group blamed by US intelligence agencies for disrupting last year’s presidential election — tried to break into more than 4,700 Gmail inboxes in at least 116 countries between March 2015 and May last year.

It is effectively a hit list — one that experts said points to the Kremlin.

“There is only one country whose interests this list would serve,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five experts who reviewed the findings of an Associated Press investigation.

“Regardless of the inevitable denials from Moscow, it is the only explanation that makes sense,” he said.

Russian officials have described claims that they orchestrated the hacking as “ludicrous” and “verging on fantasy.”

On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov said there was “not a single piece of evidence” to back the allegations.

However, the Fancy Bear targets identified by reporters tell a different story. In more than 100 interviews, many blamed Moscow for the hacking.

“We have no doubts about who is behind these attacks,” said Artem Torchinskiy, a Navalny lieutenant who was targeted by Fancy Bear in 2015. “I am sure these are hackers controlled by Russian secret services.”

The largest groups of targets were in the US, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Syria. The hackers tried to compromise employees of major US defense contractors and attempted to steal the e-mails of Kerry and former US Army general Wesley Clark.

Also on the list were more than 130 US Democrats and members of Clinton’s inner circle, including Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, whose correspondence was leaked in the closing days of the presidential race.

In response to reporting by the AP, the US Democratic National Committee Thursday issued a statement saying the evidence that Russia had interfered in the election was “irrefutable.”

Fancy Bear also tried to hack a swath of Ukrainian politicians, including Ukrainian Legislator Serhiy Leshchenko, who helped uncover the off-the-books payments allegedly made to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Islamist rebels fighting the Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad were targeted, too, as was Pussy Riot’s Maria Alekhina.

Vasily Gatov, a US-based Russian media analyst who was among those targeted by Fancy Bear, said the list provides a global context to the hack of the Democrats early last year.

“It complements the puzzle,” said Gatov, who was initially skeptical of the idea that Russian intelligence had singled out the Democrats. “Now I’m convinced.”

Allegations that Fancy Bear works for Russia are not new. However, raw data has been hard to come by. The US intelligence community has made little proof available publicly.

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