Germany warns of Russian cyber-attacks

A Russian hacker group called GhostWriter is doing everything it can to torpedo the upcoming parliamentary elections in Germany. The hacker collective spreads disinformation via social media in order to influence public opinion. In addition, the attackers conduct phishing campaigns on politicians in an attempt to take over their accounts.

‘Russian security service GRU responsible for cyberattacks on Germany’

State Department spokesman Andrea Sasse says the hackers calling themselves GhostWriter combine conventional cyberattacks with campaigns to manipulate public opinion. They have sent phishing emails to dozens of politicians with the aim of getting their login details and committing identity theft. “These attacks could serve as preparations for influence operations such as disinformation campaigns related to the parliamentary elections,” she told reporters in Berlin.

According to Sasse, the government has “reliable information” that GhostWriter’s cyberattacks are linked to the Russian security service GRU. These attacks are said to be “unacceptable for the security of the Federal Republic of Germany and the process of democratic decision-making”. They are also ‘a heavy burden’ on the bilateral relationship between Germany and Russia.

The German government last week complained to the Kremlin about the cyber attacks and demanded that the attacks stop immediately. Sasse does not want to say which companies and sectors are the targets of the Russian hackers and whether they have caused any damage. She stresses that the attacks and phishing campaigns are “completely unacceptable” and that the government has the right to “take further action.” It is not clear what the spokeswoman means by this.

East vs West

According to cybersecurity firm Mandiant, GhostWriter has been active since March 2017. Security experts confirm that the hackers represent Russian security interests abroad. Their attacks and cyber campaigns have mainly targeted Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. There, the hackers tried to put NATO, and in particular the US, in a bad light in order to stir up anti-Western and Anti-American sentiments. To achieve this, they hacked the email accounts and social media profiles of politicians. Through these channels, they spread fake news and other messages.

Mandiant argues that this method is in line with Russia’s strategy to alienate these Eastern European countries from Western European powers. It may be an attempt to build some sort of international wall to minimize the influence of Western countries. Russia’s cyber-attacks may also be in retaliation for the arrest of a spy who passed confidential documents to the Russians.

Relations between Germany and Russia have been under pressure for years. This has to do with the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. During a domestic flight, he suddenly became very ill last year. He ended up in hospital in Omsk, Russia. At the insistence of his wife and the German government, after a few days, the Russian authorities gave permission to transfer Navalny to a hospital in Berlin. There, the opposition leader was fired after 32 days. Chancellor Merkel and European government leaders agree that the Kremlin is behind this attack. President Vladimir Putin has always denied that.

Parliamentary elections coming up

This is the third time the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Russia to stop carrying out cyber attacks. It is not surprising that the German government is now insisting on it to their Russian colleagues. On Sunday 26 September, the Germans can go to the polls for the parliamentary elections. In addition to a new parliament, eligible voters can also vote on who will be Angela Merkel’s successor. She has been chancellor since 2005 and has indicated that she does not aspire to a new term.

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