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Germany summons Russian envoy over cyberattack

Published May 3, 2024last updated May 3, 2024

Berlin has summoned a top Russian envoy after accusing Russian hackers of targeting the governing coalition's SPD as well as some companies. The Czech Republic also said its institutions were targeted.

Annalena Baerbock speaks at a press conference in Adelaide
Germany's Foreign Ministry said the government would use 'the entire spectrum of measures' to respond to 'Russia's aggressive behavior'Image: Sina Schuldt/dpa/picture alliance

Germany accused Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, on Friday of being behind a 2023 cyberattack that targeted the Social Democrats (SPD).

NATO member Germany has been among the Western nations providing military support to Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion and there have also been recent accusations of increased espionage.

In June 2023, the SPD announced that cybercriminals had targeted email accounts belonging to its executives earlier that year.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Friday that a newly conducted government investigation found that that cyberattack was carried out by a group called APT28.

The Czech Republic said its institutions too have been targeted by APT28, also known as Fancy Bear and controlled by Russia's GRU military intelligence service. The Czech Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it believed the group had exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft's Outlook program.

Germany warns Russia over 'unacceptable' cyberattack

What are the latest accusations?

"Russian state hackers attacked Germany in cyberspace," German Foreign Minister Baerbock said.

"Today we can say unambiguously ... we can attribute this cyberattack to a group called APT28, which is steered by the military intelligence service of Russia," she told a news conference during a visit to Australia.

APT28 has been accused of dozens of cyberattacks around the world.

"In other words, it was a state-sponsored Russian cyber attack on Germany," Baerbock said. "This is absolutely intolerable and unacceptable and will have consequences."

She did not specify what those consequences could be.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Germany would act alongside the European Union and NATO in its response.

"The Russian cyberattacks are a threat to our democracy, which we are resolutely countering," Faeser said in a statement. "Under no circumstances will we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the Russian regime."

The Interior Ministry added that there was some evidence the Russian cyberattack also compromised the servers of some German companies.

How have others responded?

The European Union, of which both Berlin and Prague are members, condemned a "malicious cybercampaign" against the two countries. The bloc warned that it would use a "full spectrum" of tools to respond.

NATO said in a statement that it stands in solidarity with Germany and the Czech Republic following the attacks. 

The US also released a statement, calling on Moscow "to stop this malicious activity and abide by its international commitments and obligations."

The Russian Embassy in Germany denied Moscow had a role in the 2023 attack, saying its envoy "categorically rejected the accusations that Russian state structures were involved in the given incident ... as unsubstantiated and groundless." 

Germany summons Russian envoy

The German Foreign Ministry later said it had summoned the Russian envoy about the alleged cyberattacks.

"We have summoned the acting charge d'affaires of the Russian Embassy," a ministry spokesman told reporters. He added that the government would "use the entire spectrum of measures to deter and respond to Russia's aggressive behavior in cyberspace."

Baerbock first addressed the cyberattacks while speaking after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Adelaide.

Wong said Australia was also "deeply troubled" by the cyber activity raised by Baerbock.

"Australia stands in solidarity with Germany in calling out states that act contrary to the norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace," Wong said.

lo,rc/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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