Russian hackers attack US state and local government networks, US government says

A poster showing six wanted Russian military intelligence officers is displayed at a news conference at the US Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, pool)
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Updated 23 October 2020

Russian hackers attack US state and local government networks, US government says

  • US intel chief earlier said Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election
  • Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov called such allegations “absolutely groundless”

WASHINGTON: Hackers sponsored by Russia have been trying to break into US state and local government computer networks and in two instances were successful, US government agencies said on Thursday — the second major warning over foreign hacking in as many days.
In an alert less than two weeks before the US election, the agencies said that a Russian group, sometimes called Berserk Bear or Dragonfly by researchers, had targeted dozens of state, local, tribal and territorial US governments as well as aviation networks.
“Since at least September 2020, a Russian state-sponsored ... actor ... has conducted a campaign against a wide variety of US targets,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security said.
The hackers successfully broke into an unspecified number of networks and, as of earlier this month, had stolen data from two of them, the agencies said in a posting on the website of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
The names of the targeted governments were not disclosed. DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The FBI provided no further details but said in a statement that it was “shining a spotlight on Russia’s nefarious behavior.”
In response to a request for comment, the Russian Embassy in Washington pointed to recent comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling such allegations “absolutely groundless.”
The alert comes amid heightened concern about hacking ahead of the US presidential election on Nov. 3.
Many in the United States have worried about a potential repeat of 2016, when hackers alleged to be working for Russia’s military intelligence stole and released emails belonging to prominent US Democrats and other political figures, according to US intelligence agencies and government officials.
US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election, seeking to undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the vote and spread misinformation in an attempt to sway its outcome.
Russia obtained public voter information and Iran sent spoofed emails to US voters in an attempt to intimidate them, Ratcliffe said.
US officials were careful in Thursday’s warning to emphasize that they had no information to indicate the hackers had intentionally disrupted any elections or government operations.
“However, the actor may be seeking access to obtain future disruption options, to influence US policies and actions, or to delegitimize (state and local) government entities,” the alert said. 


Scotland leader ‘never been more certain’ of independence

Updated 28 November 2020

Scotland leader ‘never been more certain’ of independence

  • The head of Scotland’s devolved government and the leader of the pro-independence SNP told supporters at the party’s virtual conference

GLASGOW: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Saturday said she had “never been more certain” of achieving independence, with Britain’s final departure from EU trading arrangements set to precede key Scottish elections in the months ahead.

The head of Scotland’s devolved government and the leader of the pro-independence SNP told supporters at the party’s virtual conference that the prospect of a break between Scotland and the rest of the UK has never been closer.

“Independence is in clear sight — and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it,” she said.

Sturgeon and the SNP have argued for a second referendum on Scottish independence since the party’s overwhelming victory among Scottish seats in Britain’s 2019 general election.

Now she hopes that a further resounding win in May elections to the Edinburgh parliament will hand her party a mandate for a second bid to quit the UK.

Opinion polls in recent months have shown that a majority of public opinion in Scotland now supports independence.

The country chose to remain part of the four-nation United Kingdom in a 2014 referendum on the issue.

But Scots later voted by a thumping majority in 2016 to remain in the European Union, a referendum the Leave side won by a narrow margin when taking the rest of Britain into account.

Since then, “we have won a landslide victory in a UK general election and support for independence has risen, it has become the sustained and majority view in public opinion this year,” said Sturgeon.

“Who should be taking the decisions that shape our futures? We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources.

“Let us reach out to all Scotland like never before,” she added.

Sturgeon urged her party to “demonstrate ... that Scotland is ready to take our place in the global family of independent nations,” saying it was “now a nation on the brink of making history.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly rebuffed calls from for a another referendum, saying that the 2014 vote settled the question for a generation.

Earlier this month, Scottish independence campaigners seized on comments by the prime minister in which he said the creation of a devolved parliament in Edinburgh had been “a disaster.”

In response Sturgeon said the only way to protect the parliament was “with independence.”

On Thursday, she said a referendum could be held “in the earlier part” of the next parliamentary session.

“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve,” Sturgeon said on Saturday.