Foreign Office and computers at Porton Down research facility were hacked by Russian spies from GRU cyber unit ‘Sandworm’ in wake of Salisbury novichok attack

  • Moscow’s feared GRU cyber unit tried and failed to hack into UK IT systems
  • ‘Sandworm’ operatives targeted Porton Down and Foreign Office computers
  • Four spies outed trying to hack into chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague 

Russian spies attempted to hack computers at the Foreign Office and the Porton Down military research facility days after assassins tried to murder the Skripals in Salisbury.

Moscow’s feared GRU cyber unit nicknamed ‘Sandworm’ tried and failed to infiltrate UK IT systems as part of a series of attacks across Europe this year.

They carried out an unsuccessful ‘spearfishing’ attack on the Foreign Office in March as the police, MI5 and MI6 were trying to find out who attacked Sergei and Yulia Skripal with novichok.

They then targeted computers at Porton Down in April, Britain’s top military research facility, where experts were testing for the nerve agent.

The cyber attacks were revealed in an unprecedented fight back by the Dutch, British and US authorities who outed four GRU spies detained in The Hague this year.

They were caught trying hack into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ WiFi network by parking outside its headquarters with a cache of high-tech equipment inside the boot. 

Computers at Porton Down were targeted by Russian spies at a time when British experts inside were testing for novichok

These four GRU spies – already nicknamed the ‘Schiphol Four’ after being caught on CCTV in Amsterdam airport – were outed today  

Russia’s GRU intelligence agency targeted the global chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, whose headquarters are in The Hague, Dutch authorities revealed today

The Dutch and British authorities released CCTV images of the four men arriving at Schipol Airport as well photographs of their passports.

They were named in them as Alekski Morenets, described as a cyber operator, Evgenii Serebriakov, also a cyber operator, Oleg Soktnikov, described as humint (human intelligence) support and Alexey Minin, also humint support.

Russian intelligence service, the GRU, has been accused of launching a cyber attack on the global chemical weapons watchdog which is investigating the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Officials in the Netherlands where the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is based said four Russians had been expelled in the wake of the alleged cyber strike.

  • Revealed: How four Russian spies tried to hack into chemical…

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British intelligence helped thwart the operation, which was launched in April, a month after the Salisbury Novichok poisoning.

Details were revealed on Thursday after the UK Government accused the GRU of a wave of other cyber attacks across the globe.

At a press conference in The Hague, British ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Wilson said: ‘The disruption of this attempted attack on the OPCW was down to the expertise and the professionalism of the Dutch security services in partnership with the United Kingdom.

‘The OPCW is a respected international organisation which is working to rid the world of chemical weapons.

‘Hostile action against it demonstrates complete disregard for this vital mission.’

Mr Wilson said: ‘This disruption happened in April. Around that time the OPCW was working to independently verify the United Kingdom’s analysis of the chemical weapons used in the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury.’

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the new hacking accusations from the UK as ‘big fantasies’.

A briefing in The Hague was shown pictures of each of the men’s passports. Alexey Minin, from Perm, to the north west of Moscow, was named as one of the men

One of the men was named as Evgeny Serebriakov and his passport of photo was released

Another of the men was named as Oleg Sotnikov, said to have been born in Oeljanovsk

The passport numbers of the men were released, including Aleksei Morenets, from Murmansk

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the UK’s Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: ‘The catalogue of evidence shows why the Dutch are excellent partners and that the decades of theft have stripped Russia’s intelligence of the skills they once had. Putin’s corrupt greed has turned the GRU into an amateurish bunch of jokers.’

The team of four GRU officers travelling on official Russian passports entered the Netherlands on April 10.

On April 13 they parked a car carrying specialist hacking equipment outside the headquarters of the OPCW in the The Hague.

At that point the Dutch counter-terrorism officers intervened to disrupt the operation and the four GRU officers were ordered to leave the country.

The ‘close access’ hacking attempt, just a month after the Salisbury nerve agent attack, followed an earlier failed ‘spearfishing attack’ on the OPCW headquarters. 

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