Germany has expressed its displeasure with Russia for attempting to steal data from parliamentarians in what it believes is an attempt to spread disinformation ahead of the next German election, according to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
A hacker group known as Ghostwriter has been “combining conventional cyberattacks with disinformation and influence operations,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrea Sasse, and efforts targeting Germany have been spotted “for some time.”
She claimed that, ahead of Germany’s legislative election on Sept. 26, there have been attempts to get personal login data of federal and state parliamentarians, with the goal of identity theft, via phishing emails, among other methods.
“These attacks could be used as a warm-up for influence operations like disinformation campaigns tied to the legislative election,” she told reporters in Berlin.
“The German government has reliable information that Ghostwriter actions can be ascribed to Russian state cyber-actors, specifically Russia’s GRU military intelligence service,” Sasse stated. It sees “this intolerable behaviour as a threat to the Federal Republic of Germany’s security and democratic decision-making processes, as well as a serious strain on bilateral relations.”
She said Germany has demanded that Russia cease such activity immediately, and has made that demand directly to Russian officials, most recently during a meeting of a German-Russian working group on security policy on Thursday and Friday, during which German deputy foreign minister Miguel Berger raised the issue with Russia’s deputy foreign minister.
Sasse refused to comment on the scope of the cyberattacks or the potential harm, stating only that they are “of course extremely reprehensible” and that the German government “reserves the right to take additional steps.”
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency claimed in mid-July that his agency has detected phishing attempts on the private email accounts of federal and state parliamentarians and their staff since February. However, he claimed that only a small percentage of those attempts were successful, and that in the situations when they were, little damage appeared to have been done.
Germany’s suspicions about Russian meddling have spread to the actions of state-funded broadcaster RT, whose online-only German-language programme has long stressed controversial subjects like migration and the constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chancellor Angela Merkel recently disputed that her government used political pressure to prevent the station’s request for a regular broadcast licence, which was denied by officials in neighbouring Luxembourg last month.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Germany of attempting to silence the station, saying it “says what the German media dare not express.”
Germany will elect a new parliament on Sept. 26 that will choose Merkel’s successor. After nearly 16 years in office, she has decided not to seek re-election. The election is wide open, with surveys indicating the major parties to be quite well matched.