Dutch ‘thwart’ Russian cyber attack on OPCW

The Hague: Dutch security services said on Thursday they had thwarted a Russian cyber attack on the global chemical weapons watchdog, as Western powers blamed Moscow for some of the biggest hacking plots of recent years.
The Netherlands expelled four alleged Russian agents in April after uncovering a spy-novel-style bid by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency to target the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
The allegation came hours after Britain and Australia separately blamed the GRU for some major hacking plots including the US Democratic Party and world sport’s anti-Doping authority.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly and angrily rejected similar charges.
In the Dutch case, the Russians allegedly set up a car full of electronic equipment in the car park of a Marriott hotel next to the OPCW and tried to hack its WiFi system and computer passwords.
At the time of the attack the OPCW was investigating the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. Dutch officials said it was not clear if the cyber operation was linked to that.
But Russians were being trailed by Dutch and British intelligence and left a trail of evidence including a laptop and a taxi receipt from GRU headquarters to Moscow airport, the Dutch said.
In a sign of the network’s reach, a laptop belonging to one of the four was linked to Brazil, Switzerland and Malaysia — while the activities in Malaysia were related to the investigation into the 2014 shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine.
The Dutch and British prime ministers Mark Rutte and Theresa May in a joint statement accused the GRU of “disregard for global values” and lashed out at the Russian agency’s “unacceptable cyber activities”.
The Dutch government said it had summoned the Russian ambassador over the incident. Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg separately warned Russia to halt its “reckless” behaviour.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, speaking about the British and Australian claims, said that the allegations had been mixed together “indiscriminately”.
“That’s a hell of a mix for a perfume,” she told reporters, in an apparently mocking reference to the fact that the Novichok nerve agent used on the Skripals was contained in a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle.
In a dramatic news conference in The Hague, the head of the Dutch MIVD intelligence service, Major-General Onno Eichelsheim, said that the men travelled to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on April 10 on Russian diplomatic passports, and were met by a Russian embassy official
He showed passports identifying the Russians as Alexeksei Morenets, Evgenii Serebriakov, Oleg Sotknikov and Alexey Minin.
The Russians had originally taken a taxi from a GRU base in Moscow to the airport, for which Dutch agents later found a receipt from their hotel. Some of their mobile phones were also activated in Moscow near the agency’s headquarters.
On April 11 they then hired a Citroen C3 and scouted the area around the OPCW in The Hague —all the time being watched by Dutch intelligence.
The Russians then on April 13 set up in the Marriott Hotel next door to the OPCW and took photos, while parking the car at the hotel with the boot facing the OPCW, he said.
In the boot was electronic equipment to intercept the OPCW’s WiFi as well as log in codes at the organisation, with the antenna hidden in the back of the car facing the OPCW.
Dutch agents then swooped on the men. — AFP