Monday

17th Feb 2020

German spy chief warns Kremlin on election hack

  • Putin told a German reporter after meeting Merkel on Tuesday that "we never interfere in other countries' politics" (Photo: kremlin.ru)

A German spy chief has warned “the Kremlin” against taking the “political decision” to interfere in Germany’s election by using hacked information.

The warning came amid evidence that Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, which reports directly to Russian president Vladimir Putin, stole information from the German parliament in 2015.

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  • Massen (l), Muench (c), and Kahl (r) in Potsdam on Thursday (Photo: hpi.de)

It also tried to steal material from Germany’s main political parties, the CDU and the SPD, in the run-up to the German vote in September.

“We recognise this as a campaign being directed from Russia. Our counterpart is trying to generate information that can be used for disinformation or for influencing operations,” Hans-Georg Massen, the director of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the BfV, said on Thursday (4 May).

“Whether they do it or not is a political decision ... that I assume will be made in the Kremlin.”

Speaking at a conference in Potsdam, Germany, organised by the Hasso Plattner Institute, an IT university, he said the 2015 hack had obtained “large amounts of data” on German MPs.

He said Russia’s “increasingly aggressive cyberspionage” operation also carried out “a number of further attacks … on parties, deputies' offices, political foundations.”

“We expect further attacks, and we are keeping a very close watch on the threats,” Massen said.

He added that German authorities knew which servers the GRU-linked hacker groups, such as APT10, APT28, and APT29, had used in 2015 and that they were looking into ways to strike back.

“It is necessary that we are in a position to be able to wipe out these servers if the providers and the owners of the servers are not ready to ensure that they are not used to carry out attacks”, he said.

The spy chief also accused Russia of an overt disinformation campaign that targeted German voters.

He cited Russian state media’s fraudulent reports, last year, that Arab migrants had raped a Russian girl in Germany, and the “clumsy fake news” that the father of the SPD party’s candidate, Martin Schulz, was a Nazi concentration camp guard.

He said Russia had sent emails to Lithuanian officials this year which falsely claimed that a German soldier in a Nato battalion there had raped a Lithuanian girl.

Wider threats

Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, told the Potsdam event that “state resources were needed” for the kind of attacks that Germany had suffered.

He said China and Iran as well as Russia were behind a “strong increase” in recent “cyber-sabotage” operations worldwide.

Holger Muench, the head of Germany’s federal police, the BKA, noted that criminal groups were part of the problem.

He said Germany had 82,000 known cases of cybercrime last year which cost the country an estimated €22 billion.

"You can buy security gaps, purchase stolen data [online]. Botnets for larger cyberattacks can be rented there. Some of the offers are very cheap. The consequence is that many conventional criminal areas are moving into the net”, he said in Potsdam.

A botnet is malicious software that allows you to hijack another person’s computer to use in an attack.

Putin’s media and GRU service have also attacked the pro-EU candidate, Emmanuel Macron, in the French election ahead of the run-off on Sunday.

Pollsters expect Macron to drub the anti-EU and pro-Russia candidate, Marine Le Pen, by 20 or more points, despite Russia’s efforts.

The CDU and SPD in Germany have an even more commanding lead against pro-Russia parties, the AfD and Die Linke, which are polling at below 10 percent.

Russian trolling

The Kremlin has denied hacking, with Putin telling German chancellor Angela Merkel in Russia on Tuesday that “we never interfere in other countries’ politics”.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's envoy to the EU, also told press in Brussels on Wednesday that “Russia does not meddle in elections”.

He trolled “European media” by thanking them for being “prudent enough not to claim that last year’s [Brexit] referendum result in the UK was due to Russian hackers”.

The Russian embassy in London also trolled the EU on Thursday after the UK accused the European Commission of interfering in its upcoming election by talking tough on Brexit.

“Praise God it's not Russia this time”, the embassy said on Twitter.

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