The European Union reportedly warned Russia immediately ahead of Germany’s federal elections on Sunday, September 28, 2021 not to launch cyber offensives to influence the vote.
Russia-linked hackers are suspected of repeated cyber forays targeting members of Parliaments, government officials, politicians, the press, schools and other entities in the EU by accessing computer systems and personal accounts to steal sensitive data, said Josep Borrell, who oversees the EU’s foreign affairs and security. The EU has tied the disinformation campaigns and data breaches to the Russian state-backed Ghostwriter crew, thought to be affiliated with Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.
Disinformation accusations similar to those promoted in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections regarding voting fraud are being promoted in Germany, reports said.
“Some EU Member States have observed malicious cyber activities, collectively designated as Ghostwriter, and associated these with the Russian state,” Borrell said in a statement. “Such activities are unacceptable as they seek to threaten our integrity and security, democratic values and principles and the core functioning of our democracies.” He called the cyber attacks “contrary to the norms of responsible State behaviour in cyberspace as endorsed by all UN Member States.” Borrell did not divulge which EU member states had been attacked.
On the same day as Borrell’s remarks, the German Interior Ministry reported a cyberattack on a government office tasked with overseeing the election, according to an Associated Press report. The damage was said to minimal. “As far as we can tell at the moment, the internal election server wasn’t affected by this attack and as such there is no threat to the conduct of the federal election,” an Interior Ministry spokesperson said. Two months early, Ghostwriter was implicated in a number of attacks on the email accounts of German legislators, the Washington Post reported.
“The European Union and its Member States strongly denounce these malicious cyber activities, which all involved must put to an end immediately,” Borrell said. “We urge the Russian Federation to adhere to the norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.”
In June, the German government issued a strong rebuke of Russian cyber attacks attributed to the GRU on members of the Bundestag, the German federal parliament, reported Tagesschau, a German news service. Three months earlier, Russian cyber criminals reportedly targeted dozens of German policymakers, including seven members of the Bundestag and 31 members of regional parliaments. Victims included members of the socialist-democratic SPD, which narrowly won the largest share of parliamentary seats in Sunday's election.
Germany’s admonition of Russian cyber activity bears a strong resemblance to illicit activities generated and orchestrated by Kremlin operatives that have interrupted U.S. elections. The White House has recently stepped up its vigilance to blunt Russian-backed cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure and influence peddling in the nation’s elections with sanctions and designations levied on Russian companies, individuals and financial institutions. In addition, President Biden has warned Russian President Putin to stay away from attempting hacks on U.S. critical infrastructure or face U.S. cyber retaliation.