Germany complain Russia pre-election cyber attacks

September 07, 2021

The German Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it had lodged a complaint with Russia over attempts to steal data from lawmakers, which it believes may have been part of a plan to spread disinformation ahead of the upcoming German election. A hacker group known as Ghostwriter has been combining traditional cyber attacks with propaganda and influence operations, according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse, and activities targeting Germany have been witnessed for some time.

She claimed that, in the run-up to Germany’s parliamentary election on September 26, phishing emails were used to obtain personal login details of federal and state lawmakers, among other things, in order to commit identity theft. She told reporters in Berlin that these attacks could be used as a warm-up for influence operations such as disinformation campaigns related to the parliamentary election.

According to Sasse, the German government has accurate findings on which Ghostwriter activities can be chalked up to Russian state cyber-actors, specifically Russia’s GRU military intelligence service. It sees this unacceptable behavior as a threat to the Federal Republic of Germany’s security and democratic decision-making processes as well as a serious strain on bilateral relations.

She said Germany has demanded that Russia cease such activity immediately and has made that demand directly to Russian officials most recently during a meeting of a German-Russian working group on security policy on Thursday and Friday, during which German deputy foreign minister Miguel Berger raised the issue with Russia’s deputy foreign minister. Sasse refused to comment on the scope of the cyber attacks or the potential damage, saying only that they are “absolutely inappropriate” and that the German government assets the right to take additional action.

The head of Germany’s internal intelligence service said in mid-July that his agency had seen phishing scams on the private email accounts of federal and state lawmakers and their staff since February. However, he claimed that only a small percentage of those attempts were successful, and that in the cases where they were, little damage emerged to have been done. Germany’s concerns about Russian meddling have spread to the activities of state-funded broadcaster RT, whose online-only German-language service has long emphasized divisive issues like migration and the restrictions placed by the corona virus pandemic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel initially denied that her government used political pressure to block the station’s request for a regular broadcast license which was denied by authorities in neighboring Luxembourg last month.

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