BERLIN – The German government called on Moscow on Monday to cease “illegal cyber activities” immediately amid an increase in phishing attacks on politicians in the lead-up to pivotal parliamentary elections later this month.
German officials raised concerns with their Russian counterparts last week after members of the federal and local parliaments were targeted, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse told reporters Monday.
There are “reliable findings” that the activities of the Ghostwriter hacking group behind the attacks can be attributed to “cyber-actors of the Russian state” and more specifically its military intelligence service the GRU, she said. Attacks on Germany have been observed “for some time now,” she added
Germany’s intelligence service warned in July that there had been “intensive attacks” by the Ghostwriter group since February, speculating that they could be preparing for “hack and leak” operations in which information is stolen to be published later on, either in its original form or including falsifications.
Germany is gearing up for parliamentary elections Sept. 26 in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is not standing, marking an end to her 16 years in power. The race to succeed her has been tightly fought, with the leading position in the polls oscillating between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the center-left SPD and the Greens.
“These attacks could serve as preparations for influence operations such as disinformation campaigns connected with the parliamentary election,” Sasse said Monday. “The German government considers this unacceptable action a threat to the security of the Federal Republic of Germany and to the democratic decision-making process and a serious burden on bilateral relations.”
Russia has repeatedly denied Western allegations of election interference, saying it never interferes in foreign elections and will never do so.
Berlin has accused Russia of carrying out cyberattacks on its soil in the past, the most high-profile being the hack of the German parliament, or Bundestag, in 2015. It attempted to install software to permanently gain access to the parliament’s computer network.
The European Union imposed sanctions last year on two Russian intelligence agents and a unit of the GRU over their involvement in the hack.
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The Washington Post’s Robyn Dixon in Moscow and Luisa Rollenhagen in Berlin contributed to this report.