Russian spies hacked officials to protect doping athletes, US charges

The US government announced on Thursday that it has indicted seven Russian intelligence officials for hacking targets in the United States.

Ordinarily, intelligence agencies focus on issues related to national security. But a federal indictment announced on Thursday charges that Russian spies waged a long-running campaign to undermine investigations into doping activities by Russian athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Key Russian attacks were carried out in 2016, days after the World Anti-Doping Agency released an initial report on Russian doping activities. Russian agents targeted anti-doping organizations to gather information to undermine the investigation and embarrass non-Russian athletes.

According to the US government, the defendants initially tried to use spear-phishing emails and other remote malware attacks to compromise officials at WADA and related organizations. When that didn’t work, they traveled to targets’ physical locations, where they “hacked computer networks used by victim organizations or their personnel through Wi-Fi connections, including hotel Wi-Fi networks.”

Key attacks occurred in Rio de Janeiro and in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to the DOJ’s press release.

The hackers gained access to a WADA database called ADAMS that contained medical information from athletes around the world as well as records about anti-doping investigations. They also gained access to the private network of the US Anti-Doping Agency, as well as FIFA, the global soccer federation. They then selectively leaked stolen information to the public and the media—in some cases in doctored or misleading form.

“The conspirators exchanged emails and private messages with approximately 186 reporters in an apparent attempt to amplify the exposure and effect of their message,” the Justice Department claims.

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