The UK and US governments have imposed sanctions on two Russian hackers after the private conversations of high-profile politicians and civil servants were compromised.
The Foreign Office said the “Star Blizzard” group, a subordinate of an FSB cyber unit, had targeted MPs, Lords, civil servants, journalists and others in attempts to “meddle in British politics” and had “selectively leaked and amplified information” since 2015.
It added Britain had summoned the Russian ambassador over the issue – but Russia’s embassy in London said Moscow has no reason to trust British insinuations about cyberattacks, Russian news agencies reported.
The group used a technique known as “spear-phishing” to steal information, which involves tricking targets into opening malicious links in emails sent from email addresses designed to appear familiar.
The Foreign Office and US Treasury said sanctions would be imposed on Andrey Stanislavovich Korinets, AKA Alexey Doguzhiev, and FSB intelligence officer Ruslan Aleksandrovich Peretyatko.
The Treasury said Korinets conspired with Peretyatko to break into victims’ computer systems and in one case impersonated a retired US Air Force General in a bid to trick their targets into opening malicious links.
It also alleged they and other unnamed conspirators targeted the accounts of US government officials, including current and former employees of the departments of Defense and State and of the intelligence community.
The US has offered a reward of up to $10m (£8m) for information leading to the identification or location of any person who engages in malicious cyber activities against the US under the direction of a foreign government.
The Foreign Office said the FSB had been identified as being involved in the hacking of UK-US trade documents which were leaked ahead of the 2019 general election, as well as the 2018 hacking of the UK think tank Institute for Statecraft.
In December 2021, the account of the think tank’s founder Christopher Donnelly was targeted by FSB, with documents subsequently leaked, the Foreign Office added.
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said: “Russia’s attempts to interfere in UK politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes. Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed.
“In sanctioning those responsible and summoning the Russian ambassador today, we are exposing their malign attempts at influence and shining a light on yet another example of how Russia chooses to operate on the global stage.
“We will continue to work together with our allies to expose Russian covert cyber activity and hold Russia to account for its actions.”