EU members blame Russia for cyber-attacks

Photo: EPA Head of Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service Onno Eichelsheim, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld and British ambassador Peter Wilson (L-R) at a press conference, The Hague, 4 October.

The Dutch government on Thursday accused Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, of targeting the world's chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), through a foiled cyber operation. Hours earlier, Britain, backed by Australia and New Zealand, blamed the GRU for some of the biggest cyber-attacks of recent years.

Dutch intelligence thwarted a Russian cyber-attack targeting the OPCW in April, the government said in The Hague on 4 October. Four Russian agents were identified and expelled, it said. The Russians set up a car full of electronic equipment in the car park of a hotel next to the OPCW in The Hague in a bid to hack into its computer system. The operation was carried out by Russia's GRU. “The Dutch government finds the involvement of these intelligence operatives extremely worrisome,” Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld said at a special news conference in The Hague. The head of the Dutch MIVD intelligence service, Major-General Onno Eichelsheim, told the journalists that the men travelled to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on 4 April on Russian diplomatic passports. An official from the Russian embassy escorted them to The Hague. On 11 April they hired a Citroen C3 and scouted the area around the OPCW, all the time being watched by Dutch intelligence. The Russians set up in the Marriott Hotel next door to the OPCW and took photos, while parking the car at the hotel with the boot facing the OPCW, Eichelsheim said. In the boot was electronic equipment to intercept the OPCW's WiFi as well as login codes at the organisation, with the antenna hidden in the back of the car facing the OPCW.

At the time of the attack, the OPCW was investigating the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. Dutch officials said it was not clear if the cyber operation was linked to that.

Earlier on Thursday, British defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that Britain's National Cyber Security Centre has identified the GRU as being involved in strikes against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Ukrainian transport networks and the 2016 US presidential election.

“This is not the actions of a great power; these are the actions of a pariah state,” Williamson said in Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of NATO defence ministers.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that the GRU was responsible for “reckless and indiscriminate” attacks against political organisations and corporations. “These cyber-attacks serve no legitimate national security interest, instead impacting the ability of people around the world to go about their daily lives free from interference,” Hunt stressed.

Russia promptly hit back at the British allegations, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova telling reporters in Moscow that the British claims were made “without any analysis”. Britain's accusations are all lumped together “into one bottle, possibly a bottle of Nina Ricci perfume,” Zakharova said, cited by DPA. She was referring to the bottle allegedly used in the near-fatal poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in England earlier this year.

The incident triggered a diplomatic stand-off between London and Moscow, with Britain and dozens of its allies expelling Russian diplomats. Russia retaliated with its own expulsions. London's latest accusation is likely to worsen relations with Moscow even more.



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