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The intelligence unit of Russia’s military attempted to hack into the official investigation of the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 crash, investigators said Thursday.
Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said that Kremlin-backed hackers attempted to stage cyberattacks on several different international targets, including investigation files regarding the downing of MH17 in 2014. Dutch authorities were able to thwart the attack, Bijleveld said. “We have been aware of the interest of Russian intelligence services in this investigation and have taken appropriate measures,” she said on Thursday. “We remain very alert about this.”
The Dutch authorities say the Russian intelligence officers were trying to hack into the files with the express purpose of obtaining information on the crash investigation, according to Australian news site news.com.au. (Dozens of Australians were among the 298 victims.) Earlier this year, Dutch investigators had officially accused the Russian military of shooting down the Boeing 777-200ER that was flying over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All of the 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board died as a result of the crash. The plane was flying from Amsterdam (AMS) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), and the majority of its passengers were Dutch.
The international team of investigators — with experts from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — found that the anti-aircraft missile system that downed the passenger plane was Russian. In May, the investigatory panel said it had “legal and convincing evidence which will stand in a courtroom” that the missile, called a BUK system, came from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in the western Russian city of Kursk. Their evidence is as specific as a fingerprint, the investigators said.
Russia never admitted its ownership of the missile system and disputes the findings.
As part of the worldwide attempted cyber attack, the team of Russian hackers also reportedly tried to breach the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, located in the Hague. Seven of the hackers were indicted by the US government Thursday for attempting to hack into nuclear power company Westinghouse Electric Co. as well as trying to breach an international sports anti-doping organization. Three of those seven were already indicted in the US Department of Justice’s probe into meddling by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election, according to Reuters.
Reuters also reports that a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied the allegations as a “diabolical perfume cocktail” thought up by people with a “rich imagination.”
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