The US, UK, and Georgia accused the Russian military Thursday of being behind a major 2019 cyber attack on Georgia that disrupted “several thousand Georgian government and privately-run websites and interrupted the broadcast of at least two major television stations.”
“On October 28, 2019, the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) Main Center for Special Technologies (GTsST, also known as Unit 74455 and Sandworm) carried out a widespread disruptive cyber attack against the country of Georgia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States calls on Russia to cease this behavior in Georgia and elsewhere,” Pompeo said, adding, “We also pledge our support to Georgia and its people in enhancing their cybersecurity and countering malicious cyber actors.”
Russian cyber attacks are seen by the US as part of a broader Moscow strategy of destabilizing its neighbors, an element of its “hybrid warfare” tactics, which have involved a broad range of clandestine activity, including using disinformation campaigns and private military contractors and separatists armed and directed by the Kremlin.
“The US Government position has been clear, we will defend our partners’ and allies’ core interests and hold the Russian Federation accountable for these destabilizing activities,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Gleason told CNN in a statement.
The US has long warned about Russian cyber activity and the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election issued an indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers from the GRU in 2018 for their role in hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
The UK similarly accused Russia of being behind the cyber attacks with the British Foreign Office saying the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre “assesses with the highest level of probability” that “the GRU carried out large-scale, disruptive cyber attacks. These were against a range of Georgian web hosting providers and resulted in websites being defaced, including sites belonging to the Georgian Government, courts, non-government organisations (NGOs), media and businesses, and also interrupted the service of several national broadcasters.”
“These cyber attacks are part of Russia’s long-running campaign of hostile and destabilising activity against Georgia,” the statement added.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has deployed thousands of troops in two breakaway Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “The GRU’s reckless and brazen campaign of cyber attacks against Georgia, a sovereign and independent nation, is totally unacceptable.”
The UK statement said that the GRU Unit was also assessed to have been behind a series of cyber attacks against Ukrainian financial, energy and government sectors in recent years.