With little public fanfare, U.S. Cyber Command, the military’s new center for combating electronic attacks against the United States, has launched operations to deter and disrupt Russians who have been interfering with the U.S. political system. Like other U.S. cyberwar activities, the disruption effort against Russia is cloaked in secrecy. But it appears to involve, in part, a warning to suspected Russian hackers that echoes a menacing phrase that’s a staple of many fictional crime and spy thrillers: “We know where you live.” Beginning last fall, before the midterm elections, Cyber Command began directly contacting Russians who were linked to operations, such the Internet Research Agency, that allegedly helped coordinate Moscow’s campaign to subvert the 2016 presidential election. The apparent aim was to put people on notice that their covers had been blown, and that their ability to work and travel freely might be affected.
U.S. officials believe the disruption effort has frazzled some of the Russian targets and may have deterred some interference during the midterms. The operation was first reported by the New York Times on Oct. 23, and additional details have emerged from public and private sources.
One unlikely public confirmation of the warning campaign came from Yevgeny Zubarev, the director of the St. Petersburg-based Federal News Agency . Justice Department prosecutors have alleged that Zubarev’s information website, known by the acronym FAN, was part of the same covert-action network as the Internet Research Agency.
“The United States Cyber Command writes to me to say that what I am doing is wrong, that their job is to fight trolls,” Zubarev told the Daily Beast in December. “We are defending the motherland on the information fronts.” But he denied he was involved with any alleged “troll farm.”