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Russian military hacked Olympics out of spite for athletes being barred, DOJ official says

In blistering commentary, the Justice Department official said that the Russian hackers behaved like sullen juveniles. 

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The Department of Justice seal
The Department of Justice seal
(Brendan Smialowksi / Getty Images)
Updated: October 19, 2020 - 11:37pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Russian military intelligence officers who were charged in an international computer hacking scheme disrupted the 2018 Winter Olympic Games out of spite over drug penalties against Russian athletes, a Justice Department official says.

"The conspirators, feeling the embarrassment of international penalties related to Russia's state-sponsored doping program, i.e., cheating, took it upon themselves to undermine the games," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said Monday. 

Demers made the remarks while announcing U.S. criminal charges against six Russian military officers accused of launching "the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group." The group's alleged targets included the Ukraine power grid, the Novichok poisoning investigations, the French elections — and the Olympic Games. 

Whereas most of the targets were rooted in political aims, the attack on the Olympics seemingly was prompted by spite, according to the account from Demers.

The attack came shortly after the alleged hackers — known as the "Sandworm Team" — launched a malware assault that the Justice Department said caused "immense financial harm" totaling nearly one billion dollars.

"Rather than express remorse for the damage they inflicted against victims worldwide, the conspirators callously celebrated their success," Demers said Oct. 19. They preyed next on the Winter Olympics, he said.  

In blistering commentary, the Justice Department official said that the Russian hackers behaved like sullen juveniles. 

"Their cyber attack combined the emotional maturity of a petulant child with the resources of a nation state," Demers said.

The conspirators launched a series of spearphishing campaigns against host South Korea, and against the International Olympic Committee and non-Russian athletes.  

"Then, during the opening ceremony, they launched the 'Olympic Destroyer' malware attack, which deleted data from thousands of computers supporting the Games, rendering them inoperable," Demers said. 

The Sandworm Team tried to implicate North Korea for launching the attack, Demers said. 

The hackers all are Russian nationals, and are officers in Unit 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, according to the Justice Department.

The accused hackers are not in custody, but because of the indictments are subject to various constraints, such as being unable to travel to countries that have extradition treaties with the United States.

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