A cybersecurity firm has uncovered strong proof of the tie between the group that hacked the Democratic National Committee and Russia’s military intelligence arm — the primary agency behind the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. The firm CrowdStrike linked malware used in the DNC intrusion to malware used to hack and track an Android phone app used by the Ukrainian army in its battle against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine from late 2014 through 2016. While CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC to investigate the intrusions and whose findings are described in a new report, had always suspected that one of the two hacker groups that struck the DNC was the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, it had only medium confidence. Now, said CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch, “we have high confidence” it was a unit of the GRU. CrowdStrike had dubbed that unit “Fancy Bear.” The FBI, which has been investigating Russia’s hacks of political, government, academic and other organizations for several years, privately has concluded the same. But the bureau has not publicly drawn the link to the GRU. CrowdStrike’s fingering of the GRU helps to deepen the public’s understanding of how different arms of the Russian government are carrying out malicious and deeply troubling cyber acts in the United States.
The director of national intelligence and the homeland security secretary in October publicly blamed the Russian government for interfering in the U.S. election, including through hacks of political organizations and targeting of state election systems.
After the election, the CIA and other intelligence agencies concluded that one of Russia’s aims was to help President-elect Donald Trump win the election through a campaign of “active measures” or influence operations that included the hacking and dumping of emails onto public websites.
The GRU, evidently, was key to this operation. “The GRU is used for both tactical intelligence collection in the battlefield in support of Russian military operations and also strategic active measures or psychological warfare overseas,” said Alperovitch, who is an expert on Russia and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The fact that they would be tracking and helping the Russian military kill Ukrainian army personnel in eastern Ukraine and also intervening in the U.S. election is quite chilling.”