The European Union’s chief diplomat on Friday accused hackers with ties to the Russian state of threatening “the core functioning of our democracies.”
A Russian hacking group, which conducts disinformation campaigns known as “Ghostwriter,” is assumed to be behind a campaign targeting German federal and regional parliament members with fake emails in an attempt to draw out compromising information. Germany’s foreign ministry said this month the Russian state bore responsibility for the attacks.
“These malicious cyber activities … are contrary to the norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace as endorsed by all U.N. member states, and attempt to undermine our democratic institutions and processes,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said in a statement.
With days to go before Germans head to the polls, security authorities are on high alert for disinformation and cyberattacks, including from the hackers behind Ghostwriter, that could harm the integrity of the vote.
“We urge the Russian Federation to adhere to the norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace,” Borrell said, adding the bloc is still considering “taking further steps,” which could mean imposing sanctions like asset freezes and travel bans on individuals.
The group has also hacked Polish politicians earlier this year, triggering a national scandal over leaked private emails of top officials, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Cybersecurity firm FireEye linked parts of the Ghostwriter attacks to a group called UNC1151, affiliated with the Russian military intelligence service GRU.
The hackers previously targeted officials in Lithuania, Latvia and the military alliance NATO with fake emails and letters spread in local media.
The EU could impose sanctions on the hackers if all member countries sign off on them. The bloc placed the first-ever round of such sanctions on high-profile Russian, Chinese and North Korean groups in July 2020. In October 2020 the EU also sanctioned Russian GRU officials for hacking Germany’s national parliament.
Lithuania’s Vice-minister of National Defence Margiris Abukevičius told POLITICO earlier the bloc “must make use of measures [available to the EU] … including possible application of cyber sanctions.”