Russian President Vladimir Putin says patriotic citizens may have launched politically motivated cyberattacks against foreign countries, but denied any government involvement in such operations.
Following accusations that Russian state-sponsored hackers interfered with the recent elections in the United States, Putin was asked on Thursday at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg about the possibility of Russian hackers influencing the upcoming elections in Germany. Putin responded by comparing hackers to artists.
“If artists get up in the morning feeling good, all they do all day is paint,” Putin said. “The same goes for hackers. They got up today and read that something is going on internationally. If they are feeling patriotic they will start contributing, as they believe, to the justified fight against those speaking ill of Russia.”
The Russian president noted that while this is possible in theory, his country does not engage in such activities on a government level. Putin also highlighted that threat actors could launch attacks and make it look like the source was Russia – a task that he described as “very easy.”
On the other hand, Putin said he was convinced that hackers cannot have a real impact on an election campaign.
“We do not engage in this activity at the government level and are not going to engage in it. On the contrary, we try to prevent this from happening in our country,” he said. “At any rate, I believe that no hackers can affect the election campaign in any European country, nor in Asia or in America.”
Thomas Rid, a professor in the department of War Studies at King’s College London, believes the comments made by Putin are strategic.
Russian hackers are also believed to have targeted the political campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron. The attacks were uncovered by security firms, but the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) also claimed to have warned France of the attacks.
The threat groups tracked as Fancy Bear (aka APT28, Pawn Storm, Sofacy Group, Sednit and STRONTIUM) and Cozy Bear (aka APT29, Office Monkeys and Cozy Duke) are widely believed to be associated with Russia. While many security firms refrain from making statements on attribution or simply point out that the hackers speak Russian, some companies have gone as far as to link them to Russian government agencies, such as the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the military intelligence agency GRU.