US Accuses Russia Of Hacking Operations, Imposes Sanctions

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"The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in United States elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure", said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it", said President Donald Trump, who has generally been reluctant to criticize Russia.

US national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors. Ryabkov has said that Moscow would increase its so-called "blacklist" of Americans in response to new USA sanctions.

John Keeley, a spokesman for the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute, said: "There has been no successful cyber attack against any US nuclear facility, including Wolf Creek".

A senior US national-security official, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, called it "a multi-stage attack campaign" against "the systems that run our factories, and our grid".

Russian Federation has attempted to attack targets that include "energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors" since March 2016, DHS said. In one case, the alert said, hackers downloaded a small image from a company's human resources page that when blown up was actually "a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background". Congressmen in both parties say that the administration needs to do "far more" to punish Russian Federation.

Russian Federation has also been accused of being behind a nerve agent attack on one of its former spies in Britain, who had fed information to British authorities, and his daughter.

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"We're going to continue those actions to increase pressure on Russian Federation until they change their behaviour, and become responsible members of the worldwide community".

In a statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the US of purposely timing the sanctions just ahead of this weekend's Russian elections, and said the country was preparing a response. Administration officials said it was retaliation for meddling in the 2016 election, and "malicious cyberattacks".

The outgoing head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command has warned that if the United States does not take punitive or deterrent action against Russian Federation, its malicious activity will continue.

They include measures against 13 individuals and three entities, including the Internet Research Agency, that have been charged as part of the ongoing Russian Federation investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The sanctions are the first use of the new powers that Congress passed a year ago to punish Moscow for meddling in an election that Trump won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The sanctions were imposed due to "Russia's continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 US election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks, including the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack attributed to the Russian military on February 15, 2018, " the Treasury said in the statement.

But Mnuchin was unequivocal in saying that Thursday's Treasury action "counters Russia's continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks".

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Altogether, 19 Russians were cited. The agencies targeted by the US sanctions over alleged election meddling include the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company known in the West as the "troll factory". The new sanctions address not only efforts to manipulate the American democratic process, however, but also a series of other malicious cyber attacks traced back to Russian Federation in recent years.

Another report released this month by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology added: "Documents that the American social media companies produced for the Committee confirmed that Russian agents were exploiting American social media platforms in an effort to disrupt domestic energy markets, suppress research and development of fossil-fuels, and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas". U.S. individuals also are barred from doing business with them.

Russia Friday said it will expand its own "blacklist" of Americans in response to new U.S. sanctions announced by the Trump administration.

The U.S. called the February 15 incident the most destructive and costly cyberattack in history, resulting in billions in damage across several continents, as well as disruptions to global shipping, trade, and the production of medicines. They include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian known as "Putin's chef", whom Mueller alleged controlled the IRA through two other businesses.

According to a statement from the Trump administration, Russians were successful at infiltrating parts of the energy sector, though they were stopped before any damage could be done. The GRU was directly involved in interfering in the 2016 USA election through cyber activities, the Treasury Department said. Mnuchin did not give a time frame for those sanctions, which he said would sever the individuals' access to the US financial system.

Five entities including Moscow's Intelligence Services are targeted in Thursday's sanctions.

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