Russian spies hacked a Ukrainian energy company at the center of the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump, a cybersecurity firm said Monday.
Russia’s GRU spy agency launched a “phishing” attack in November to access the email of Burisma Holdings employees, California cyber firm Area 1 Security said in a report.
“The timing of the GRU’s campaign in relation to the 2020 US elections raises the specter that this is an early warning of what we have anticipated since the successful cyberattacks undertaken during the 2016 US elections,” Area 1 co-founders Oren J. Falkowitz and Blake Darche said in the eight-page document.
Trump was impeached in December over allegations that he improperly pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation into Burisma and its links to former board member Hunter Biden, the son of the president’s election rival Joe Biden.
The GRU figured heavily in the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, which concluded that Russia hacked the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Trump.
The president triggered wide alarm in Washington in July 2018 after he met President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and appeared to take at face value Putin’s denials of Russian meddling.
In a July 2019 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pushed for Kiev to investigate a debunked Kremlin conspiracy theory that Biden — one of the Democrats most likely to challenge Trump for the White House in November — had tried to quash a graft probe of Burisma to protect his son.
The GRU — a military intelligence unit — got into the servers of Burisma Holdings, Area 1 said, although it is not clear what they found or what they were looking for.
“The Russians appear to be at it again,” tweeted Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who led Trump’s impeachment investigation for the Democrats.
“According to a new report, they’re hacking information that could be a prelude to more election interference in 2020. And again, it appears aimed to help Trump.”
The report was released with Trump expected to stand trial in the Senate as early as this week on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump is accused of withholding $391 million in military aid for Ukraine and a White House meeting for Zelensky in exchange for a probe of the Bidens.
Trump insists he did nothing wrong, but Democrats said the demand for an investigation of the Bidens constituted an abuse of power.
*updated with new headline and more background information