US Charges Six Russian Military Officers in Global Cyberattacks

U.S. prosecutors on Monday announced charges against six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with a global computer hacking campaign that targeted the 2017 French presidential election and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and carried out other high-profile cyberattacks.   The campaign, spanning from 2015 to 2020, was the “most disruptive and destructive” carried out by a single group of cyber intruders, law enforcement officials said.  The six hackers, all officers of the Russian military intelligence service known as GRU, “engaged in computer intrusions and attacks intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” entities and institutions seen as anti-Russia, the Justice Department said.  The same unit, known to cybersecurity researchers as the “Sandworm” team, was allegedly behind the hacking of Democratic computer networks as part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, visits the new GRU military intelligence headquarters building in Moscow, Nov. 8, 2006.One of the six hackers charged in a new 50-page indictment, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, had been indicted along with 11 other GRU officers in 2018 in connection with the 2016 election interference.  Russian President Vladimir Putin recently called for a cyber reset between Russia and the United States.  John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said the indictment underscores why Russia’s proposed reset “is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda.”  The indictment “lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries,” Demers said at a virtual press conference at the Justice Department.  The five others were identified as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin. They face charges of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and false registration of a domain name. All six remain at large. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. The charges, which come two weeks before another contentious U.S. presidential election, do not allege election interference, Demers said. “Rather, today’s charges illustrate how Unit 74455’s election activities were but one part of the work of a persistent, sophisticated hacking group busy sabotaging perceived enemies or detractors of the Russian Federation, regardless of the consequences to innocent bystanders or their destabilizing effect,” Demers said.  In recent months, the Justice Department has announced a series of indictments charging hackers working for China, Iran and North Korea.     Asked if the indictment was meant to be a warning to U.S. adversaries seeking to disrupt the U.S. elections, a Justice Department official said, “I would say that generally, it is a warning, a warning to these countries and the actors that are working for them, these activities are not quite as deniable as they might have hoped they were originally.” The official spoke during a press call and asked not to be identified. Cyberattack targetsThe GRU hackers’ targets included Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure; Georgian companies and government entities; the elections in France; an investigation into Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang; and several U.S. corporations. FILE – Flag bearers from various nations attend the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 25, 2018.During their yearslong campaign, the hackers used “some of the world’s most destructive malware” to strike targets on three continents, according to the Justice Department.   In Ukraine, using malware known as BlackEnergy, Industroyer, and KillDisk, the hackers attacked the country’s electric power grid, Ministry of Finance, and State Treasury Service from December 2015 through December 2016.Ahead of the 2017 presidential election in France, the GRU officers allegedly carried out spear-phishing and hack-and-leak operations targeting President Emmanuel Macron’s party, French politicians and local French governments.In June 2017, the hackers deployed malware known as NotPetya to infect computers around the world, targeting the networks of hospitals and medical facilities in the Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania; a FedEx subsidiary; and an unidentified U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer. Masquerading as ransomware, NotPetya was capable of bringing down entire computer networks within seconds, officials said. At Heritage, patient lists, patient history, physical examination files, and laboratory records were wiped out. In all, the attacks resulted in losses of nearly $1 billion to the companies.    During the Winter Olympic Games, the hackers used malware known as Olympic Destroyer to knock the games’ official website offline and prevented attendees from gaining their tickets. The attack came within hours of the Olympic Committee’s decision to disqualify Russian athletes over doping.In Georgia, with which Russia has tense relations, the hackers targeted a major media company in 2018 and defaced about 15,000 websites in 2019. “They replaced the homepages of those websites with an image of a former Georgian president known for his efforts to counter Russian influence in Georgia with the caption, ‘I’ll be back,'” said a Justice Department official. John Hultquist, senior director of analysis for cybersecurity firm FireEye, said the indictment “reads like a laundry list of many of the most important cyberattack incidents we have ever witnessed.” “Sandworm has been involved in many of the most aggressive cyberattacks and information operations ever seen,” Hultquist said in a statement. Smuggling ring Separately, the Justice Department unsealed charges against 10 alleged members of an international smuggling ring for trafficking more than $50 million worth of electronic devices, from the United States to Russia. The defendants, eight of whom have been arrested, allegedly used employees of Russia’s Aeroflot Airlines as couriers to smuggle Apple products and other electronics to Russia.   
  

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Reggae, Bongo Flava Songs Energize Tanzanian Campaign Rallies

Music has featured prominently in Tanzania’s political campaigns this year ahead of the Oct. 28 general elections.The ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), or Party of the Revolution, has trotted out the biggest number of musicians during rallies by incumbent President John Pombe Magufuli. CCM opened Magufuli’s campaign in late August with a stadium-filled special concert of 200 songs by more than 100 artists from the Afro-pop music genre widely known as Bongo Flava.But it is Tundu Lissu, the presidential candidate of Tanzania’s main opposition Chadema party, speaks to the media at his home in Dar es Salaam, Sept. 9, 2020.Tumaini Makene, Lissu’s campaign manager, says a DJ played “One Love” at a rally in southern Tanzania and the candidate broke into an impromptu reggae dance, stoking a frenzy among the huge crowd. The song, released on the 1977 album “Exodus,” has since become a staple of Lissu’s campaign, often used to open rallies or else to calm the crowd when it seems to go out of control.Tanzania’s electoral campaigns have been particularly music-heavy this year.  The ruling CCM party commands the biggest attractions, pulling large crowds to rallies featuring popular Bongo Flava musicians such as Diamond Platnumz, Ali Kiba and Harmonize.But it is the young female artist Zuchu who has spurred the most popular song for Magufuli’s campaign. “Tanzania Ya Sasa,” which translates as “Today’s Tanzania,” extols the successes of Magufuli during his first five years in power.Chadema has its share of local musicians at its rallies, but Marley’s songs – “One Love” and “Buffalo Soldier” among them – are the crowd favorites. Chadema campaign DJs line up a playlist heavy with his reggae songs.Chadema officials say their presidential candidate did not specifically ask for Marley’s music. He simply responded to the vibes of the songs chosen by the DJs at his public rallies.This report originated in VOA’s Swahili service, where Mwamoyo Hamza serves as its chief.

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US Charges Six Russian Agents in Global Cyber Attack

U.S. prosecutors have charged six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with a global computer malware campaign that struck the 2017 French presidential election and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea among other targets.  The cyber campaign represented “the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group,” said John C. Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division. “No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” Demers said Monday at a news conference. The six hackers, all officers of the Russian military intelligence service known as GRU, “engaged in computer intrusions and attacks intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against, or otherwise destabilize” targets around the world, the Justice Department said.    TargetsThese included Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure; Georgian companies and government entities; the elections in France; an investigation into Russia’s poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain; and the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, the Justice Department said.In addition, the hackers, using the NotPetya malware, struck hospitals and medical facilities in the Heritage Valley Health System in Pennsylvania, a FedEx Corporation subsidiary and an unidentified U.S pharmaceutical manufacturer.   The Justice Department had previously indicted GRU officers with hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election.  The latest charges do not allege election interference on the part of the GRU.The six defendants were identified as Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin They face charges of conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and false registration of a domain name. 

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Afghan Artists Fear a Taliban Return to Power

As the Afghan Taliban tries to negotiate a political settlement with the government, many musicians in the country are worried about the impact a deal will have on their ability to work, as VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Kabul.Videographer:  Ahmad Javed, Rahim Gul Sarwan  Producer: Marcus Harton

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Got Any Signal Up Here? Nokia to Build Mobile Network on Moon

Finland’s Nokia has been selected by NASA to build the first cellular network on the moon, the company said on Monday.
 
The lunar network will be part of the U.S. space agency’s efforts to return humans to the moon by 2024 and build long-term settlements there under its Artemis program.
 
Nokia said the first wireless broadband communications system in space would be built on the lunar surface in late 2022, before humans make it back there.
 
The Finnish company will partner with Texas-based private space craft design firm Intuitive Machines to deliver the network equipment to the moon on their lunar lander.
 
After delivery, the network will configure itself and establish the first LTE (Long-Term Evolution) communications system on the moon, Nokia said. “The network will provide critical communication capabilities for many different data-transmission applications, including vital command and control functions, remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and streaming of high definition video,” Nokia said.

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