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Russian intelligence hit in first ever EU sanctions against cyberattacks

According to Air Force Reserve Command Intelligence, open sources report that cyber actors and terrorists use multiple fake personas on social media to target Defense Department personnel. (Air Force/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The European Union has imposed its first-ever sanctions against alleged cyberattackers, targeting four Russian citizens and a unit of Moscow’s GRU military intelligence agency.

The EU sanctions list also includes two entities based in China and North Korea, as well as two Chinese nationals.

Restrictive measures will be taken against the six individuals and three entities “responsible for or involved in various cyber-attacks,” including the attempt to hack into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the European Council said in a statement on July 30.

The sanctions include a travel ban and an asset freeze, the statement said, adding that EU persons and entities are also not allowed to directly or indirectly make funds available to those targeted.

The targeted entities include the GRU’s Main Center for Special Technologies, which the EU said is responsible for cyberattacks “with a significant effect…and constituting an external threat” to the bloc, its member states, and other countries.

One of these attacks was launched in June 2017 and “rendered data inaccessible in a number of companies in the Union, wider Europe and worldwide, by targeting computers with ransomware and blocking access to data, resulting amongst others in significant economic loss.”

Another cyberattack directed at Ukraine resulted in parts of the country’s power grid being switched off during the winter of 2015 and 2016.

The four Russian citizens hit by EU sanctions include Aleksei Minin, Aleksei Morenets, Yevgeny Serebriakov, and Oleg Sotnikov.

They are accused of taking part in an April 2018 attempt to gain access to the Wi-Fi network of the OPCW in The Hague, the Netherlands, and compromise “the security of the network and the OPCW’s ongoing investigatory work.”

The agency had been investigating a nerve-agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in 2018, as well as the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

In a declaration, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc “will continue to strongly promote responsible behaviour in cyberspace, and call upon every country to cooperate in favour of international peace and stability, to exercise due diligence and take appropriate action against actors conducting malicious cyber activities.”

The legal framework for targeted sanctions against cyberattacks was adopted in May last year.