A grand jury in Pennsylvania has indicted seven Russian intelligence officers from the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) for "computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering" in connection with hacking athlete information at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, the US Department of Justice announced on Thursday.
The charges relate, in part, to a scheme operated under the guise of the 'Fancy Bear' hacking group that publicly disclosed confidential medical information for athletes including Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome after the Rio Games.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, the hackers "conducted persistent and sophisticated computer intrusions", while working for the Russian government, that were "criminal, retaliatory, and damaging to innocent victims and the United States' economy, as well as to world organizations."
The indicted individuals were Russian nationals and residents: Aleksei Sergeyevich Morenets, 41, Evgenii Mikhaylovich Serebriakov, 37, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, 32, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, 30, and Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, 27, who, according to the DOJ, were part of Military Unit 26165. Also indicted were GRU officers Oleg Mikhaylovich Sotnikov, 46, and Alexey Valerevich Minin, 46.
In 2016, after Russian athletes were excluded from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hackers operating as 'Fancy Bear' accessed a World Anti-Doping Agency "Anti-Doping Administration and Management System" [ADAMS] created specifically for the Rio Games, gaining access to TUE information for all the athletes competing at the Rio Olympics.
The hackers then made public TUE applications for numerous athletes, including Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Emma Johansson, Fabian Cancellara, Stephen Cummings, Jakob Fuglsang, Jack Bobridge and Laura Trott. The hackers are also suspected in a failed attempt to access the UK Anti-Doping Agency's systems.
Russian athletes were excluded from the Rio Games after the publication of the WADA-commissioned McLaren report, which detailed an extensive Russian state-sponsored doping scheme to cover up positives, tamper with samples and thereby maximize its Olympic medal count in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In retaliation, the hackers descended upon several anti-doping agencies and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, attempting to use 'spearphishing' emails and other methods to attempt to access those systems.
When those attempts proved unsuccessful, Morenets and Serebriakov, with remote support from Yermakov, were sent to Rio to hack into the Wi-Fi networks used by anti-doping officials, managing to access an IOC official's credentials to gain access to the Rio ADAMS database. According to WADA, they did not gain access to the larger ADAMS system used outside of the Olympic Games.
The hackers also targeted a "senior USADA official" in Rio via the Wi-Fi access points at a hotel, and remotely accessed USADA's computer system to gain access to data including "summaries of athlete test results and prescribed medications".
According to the DOJ, the Russian agents claimed to be 'hacktivists' from a group named 'Fancy Bears', and released confidential medical information - some of which was modified from its original form - for around 250 athletes from 30 different countries.
They went on to travel to Lausanne, Switzerland, to use Wi-Fi networks during a WADA conference to hack into the laptop of an official from the Canadian anti-doping agency's (CCES) and then into the CCES networks in Canada.
The DOJ also alleges that the Russian agents "engaged in a proactive outreach campaign, using Twitter and e-mail to communicate with approximately 186 reporters about the stolen information. After articles were published, conspirators used the Fancy Bears' Hack Team social media accounts to draw attention to the articles in an attempt to amplify the exposure and effect of their message."
USADA CEO Travis Tygart hailed the indictment of the agents in a statement on Thursday.
"Today's Department of Justice announced indictment of 7 officers of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) working in concert as 'Fancy Bear' is a reassuring outcome for clean athletes everywhere, especially those whose private information was leaked as a result of the despicable and illegal hacking activity," Tygart wrote.
"Let's not forget that these cyber-attacks, which we now know were perpetuated by officials in the Russian government, illegally obtained information during the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio to try to smear innocent athletes' reputations and make it look like they did something wrong, when in fact they did everything right."
Tygart emphasised that the "illegal and malicious acts" were designed to "divert attention away from Russia's state-sponsored doping program and were part of a broader scheme of corrupt and unethical behaviour by the Russian government to manipulate international Olympic sport."
He went on to accuse Russia of imposing a system that was "abusing its own athletes with an institutionalised doping program".
"At the conclusion of this saga, the DOJ's indictment sends a short, simple message: those who attempt to violate the rights of clean athletes and corrupt the integrity of sport will be held accountable for their actions."
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