U.S. President Donald Trump has confirmed that a cyberattack was launched in 2018 against a Russian company believed to be behind some major disinformation campaigns, including ones targeting elections.
The Washington Post reported in February 2019 that the U.S. Cyber Command, supported by the NSA, had launched an attack on the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Saint Petersburg-based firm that is said to conduct online influence operations for the Russian government.
Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said at the time that the attack took the IRA offline. The goal was to prevent Russia from interfering in the 2018 midterm elections, similar to how it meddled in the 2016 presidential elections. The operation against the IRA was considered a success by at least some officials.
In an interview with the Washington Post last week, President Trump confirmed authorizing the attack on the Russian troll farm, and claimed that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did nothing to stop similar influence campaigns before the 2016 presidential election, despite allegedly knowing about them.
While it’s known that the United States does conduct offensive cyber operations, it’s highly uncommon for the government to confirm a specific attack. A majority of the reports regarding cyberattacks launched by the U.S. against other countries focused on Iran, including the country’s nuclear facilities, missile control systems, and a database used to target oil tankers.
There was also one report last year that claimed the U.S. had planted destructive malware in Russia’s electric power grid as a warning to Moscow, but President Trump denied the allegations at the time.
The IRA, believed to be funded by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is said to have conducted several major disinformation campaigns, including ones aimed at interfering in politics, not only in the United States but also the United Kingdom.
In 2018, the U.S. announced charges against a dozen Russian intelligence officers and several entities over their alleged role in election meddling. One of those entities was the IRA.