United States indicts 7 Russian agents in global hacking conspiracy

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The United States said Moscow must be made to pay the price for its actions.

British, Australian, and Dutch authorities have accused Russia's GRU intelligence agency of being behind cyberattacks against both the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons and the investigation into Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014.

"The Western spy mania is gathering pace", the Russian Foreign Ministry had said earlier, with ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling the allegations a "diabolical perfume cocktail". But the accusations deepen Moscow's isolation at a time when its diplomatic ties with the West have been downgraded over the poisoning of an ex-spy and while it is under USA and European Union sanctions over actions in Ukraine.

Four Russian intelligence officers who had entered the Netherlands under diplomatic passports were escorted out of the country after they were found to be carrying out a cyber attack on the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog.

Among the charges the spies are facing: aggravated identity theft, and wire fraud.

It has agents across the globe and answers directly to the chief of the general staff and the Russian defence minister.

"These acts form part of a broader pattern of activities by the Russian government that lie well outside the bounds of appropriate behaviour, demonstrate a disregard for worldwide law and undermine the rules-based global order", it read.

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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.

In the Dutch case, the Russians allegedly set up a vehicle full of electronic equipment in the auto park of a Marriott hotel next to the OPCW and tried to hack its wifi system and computer passwords.

Agents are said to have travelled to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Lausanne in Switzerland, the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, and The Hague to target the OPCW. They were expelled to Russian Federation.

They are Aleksei Morenets, 41; Evgenii Serebriakov, 37; Ivan Yermakov, 32; Artem Malyshev, 30; Dmitriy Badin, 27. Reuters was not immediately able to contact them.

She noted that the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to issue indictments of suspected Russian spies later on Thursday, in part due to information gleaned from the Dutch operation.

"We want the hundreds of victims of these Russian hackers to know that we will do everything we can to hold these criminals accountable for their crimes", said Scott Brady, US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the grand jury indicted the Russians.

"The GRUs actions are reckless and indiscriminate: they try to undermine and interfere in elections in other countries", said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

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He said the hackers were planning to travel on to the OPCW-certified laboratory in Spiez near Berne in Switzerland, where the Novichok nerve agent used in March's attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury was identified.

At the presentation, Major General Eichelsheim showed the antennae, laptops and other equipment he said the men meant to use to breach the OPCW's wifi network. Moscow replied with expulsions of Westerners.

In response, Putin described the two suspects as "civilians." Norway arrested Mikhail Bochkaryov on September 21 as he was about to fly out of the country.

Russian spies have been accused of involvement in a series of cyber-plots across the globe, leading the United States to level charges against seven agents.

Officials have previously said other cyber actors include CyberCaliphate, Pawnstorm, Voodoo Bear and Tsar Team.

Three of the seven officials that are named in this specific indictment (Yermakov, Malyshev and Badin) were also named by Mueller as interfering in the 2016 USA election.

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