Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted twelve Russian individuals with hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, as well as stealing personal information of approximately half a million American votes over the same period, the United States Department of Justice announced. All defendants are members of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate's division GRU, having been accused of targeting Hillary Clinton's campaign and leaking emails meant to hurt her chances of winning the election under pseudonyms "Guccifer 2.0" and "DCLeaks," as well as another channel.
The individuals in question are members of two GRU units tasked with systematically interfering with the American democratic process by influencing the outcome of the last presidential election, as per the same indictment. The coordinated attacks started with phishing scams served to volunteers and low-ranking DNC employees, with the attackers gradually moving up the chain of command until they were able to obtain usernames and passwords of more high-profile DNC members, then utilize the thereof to access their emails and obtain additional information for compromising other systems, all while collecting any kind of information that could hurt the Clinton campaign by being leaked, the Special Counsel's probe concluded. The Russian hackers have also been accused of compromising DNC computers with malicious software that both stole login information and spied on users. Besides the DNC, the attacks also targeted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DOJ said.
The indictment lays out eleven criminal counts, eight of which pertain to instances of aggravated identity theft. The remaining charges are those of a criminal conspiracy to attack the U.S. via digital means and interfere with its presidential election, money laundering valued at over $95,000, and a conspiracy to hack election state board computers and other sensitive systems across the country. The indictment doesn't suggest the ultimate outcome of the 2016 election was altered by the Russian hackers, nor does it accuse any American of knowingly participating in the attacks. The U.S. recently started warning its citizens traveling to Russia about hacking risks in the transcontinental country, whereas some security experts are pointing to cyber attacks as tech tools that are possibly more dangerous than nukes. The Special Counsel's probe already led to the indictments of another thirteen Russian individuals and three entities in mid-February, with all of them facing similar accusations.