Canada joins allies in condemning ‘malicious’ Russian cyberattacks

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OTTAWA — Canada joined NATO allies on Thursday in blaming the Russian military for new cyberattacks that targeted the international chemical weapons agency and the investigation into the mysterious 2014 crash of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

A statement from Global Affairs Canada said the latest incidents are part of a malicious pattern of behaviour that has included Russia’s 2016 attack on the Canadian headquarters of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Canada and it allies accused Russia’s secret military intelligence unit, the GRU, of a brazen attempt to hack The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in April.

Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld said the attack was disrupted and four Russian intelligence officers were immediately expelled from the Netherlands.

The GRU was also accused of trying to hack the investigation into the 2014 downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine.

Canada echoed a cascade of condemnation from Australia, Britain and the Netherlands in accusing Moscow of a series of unprecedented espionage operations in both the physical and digital worlds.

The Global Affairs statement branded the Russian actions as “malicious,” saying Canada has “high confidence that the GRU was responsible” for the attempted attack on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Canada serves on the OPCW’s executive council.

“The incidents identified by Canada and our allies, including the GRU’s attempt to undermine the work of the OPCW, underscore the Russian government’s disregard for the rules-based international order, international law and established norms,” the statement said.

“The attempt to compromise the networks of the OPCW is consistent with Russia’s broader attacks on the independence and professionalism of the personnel of the OPCW.”

The events have a connection to Canada, the statement said, pointing to the 2016 attack on the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency.

Global Affairs said the cyber-hacker group Fancy Bear/APT28 pilfered confidential athlete data from the agency’s website and circulated it publicly.

“The Government of Canada assesses with high confidence that the Russian military’s intelligence arm, the GRU, was responsible for this incident.”

Moscow has issued a series of denials about the incidents.

Russia had interests in the latest cases: the OPCW was investigating reports that a Soviet-made nerve agent had been used against a Russian ex-spy in England, and Russia has been blamed by some for being involved in shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Center said Thursday that four new attacks are associated with the GRU as well as earlier security hacks. It also cited attacks on the World Anti-Doping Agency, Ukrainian transport systems and the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

“We are going to actually make it clear that where Russia acts, we are going to be exposing that action,” said British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who branded Russia’s actions as those of a “pariah state.”

The British ambassador to the Netherlands said men caught with spy gear outside OPCW, for example, were from the  same GRU section (Unit 26165) accused by American investigators of having broken into the Democratic National Committee’s email during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The OPCW was investigating the poisoning in Britain earlier this year of GRU defector Sergei Skripal, in which the nerve agent Novichok was used.

— with files from the Associated Press

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press