Russia claims US and ‘Western countries’ are trying to hack its presidential election

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As Russia prepares for its presidential election this week, its systems are reportedly being targeted by “massive” cyberattacks, according to local authorities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is running against three “officially permitted” opponents in the election scheduled to take place from March 15 to 17. It will be Russia’s first-ever three-day-long presidential election and the first instance when residents from certain regions, including Moscow, can cast their votes online.

Last week, a Russian state official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that hackers from “Western countries” are plotting and already orchestrating cyberattacks on Russian election infrastructure.

“It’s good that our electoral system turned out to be resistant to external cyber influence, but this is also an indicator of how great the pressure of enemies is on the Russian state,” said the ministry’s ambassador-at-large Gennady Askaldovich.

The head of the Russian election commission, Ella Pamfilova, also stated last week that Russian “enemies” are attempting to meddle in the presidential elections in the country “to such an extent as never before.”

“The Russian electoral system today is experiencing unprecedented attempts at interference; the hacker attacks are ongoing; the purpose of all this is to disrupt the presidential election,” she added.

Pamfilova said that due to cyberattacks on the election commission’s services and websites, electronic voting is allowed only in those regions where “its security is guaranteed.”

Neither Askaldovich nor Pamfilova provided any evidence for alleged election-related cyberattacks. The Kremlin, which conducted an extensive interference operation targeting the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has a history of making baseless accusations to satisfy its own political goals.

The Russian National Computer Incident Coordination Center (CERT) has also issued a warning to online voters about the escalating cyber threats, including those that could originate from Ukraine and its allied countries. According to the CERT statement, cybercriminals will try to discredit the election, stir up social tension, spread fake news and infect online voters with malware.

The agency has advised its users to be cautious of phishing websites posing as electronic voting services. They also warned against emails and messages containing malicious links, disguised as official correspondence from Russian state agencies.

This week, Russia’s foreign intelligence service specifically accused the U.S. of attempting to interfere in Russia’s election and launching a cyberattack on its online voting system. The White House denied this statement.

“These allegations are categorically false and nothing more than propaganda,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Reuters. “The U.S. has not and will not meddle in Russia’s election. It is Russia that has a long history of targeting U.S. and other democratic elections.”

Last week, the Kremlin said that Russia will not meddle in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November, and dismissed the findings that Moscow was behind the campaigns to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

So far, there have been no public cases of Russian state websites going down, and none of the prominent Ukrainian hacktivist groups have claimed responsibility for such attacks.

On Monday, the Russian independent media organization Meduza said that it has been targeted by an “unprecedented” cyber campaign ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

Local independent media are also warning of possible internet or social media outages during the election period. This is a common practice in authoritarian countries and was recently used during Pakistan’s elections.

The reports of internet outages in Russia have become more frequent recently, with some appearing to be politically motivated.

The Kremlin is also trying to prevent its opponents from speaking up against Putin. For example, Russia banned the publication of polls, forecasts, and studies related to the presidential elections.

Supporters of the killed opposition leader Alexey Navalny also reported receiving fake messages, stating that the protests they are planning to organize on election day have been postponed.

“Don’t be fooled by fakes! They are trying to deceive you! Come to the polling stations on March 17 at 12:00 local time and vote against Putin,” Navalny’s team said.

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Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.

 

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