Russian military spies hacked numerous South Korean government computers during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea — possibly in retaliation to the banning of the Russian team by the International Olympic Committee due to the earlier use of doping by its athletes — and tried to make it look as if North Korea was behind the attack, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
It was as a "false-flag" operation by the Russian military agency GRU, which managed to gain access to about 300 Olympic-related computers by using North Korean IP addresses, two unnamed U.S. officials told The Washington Post.
For intelligence collection or network attacks, the GRU also hacked South Korean routers in January and launched new malware the day the Games began.
"Anyone who controls a router would be able to redirect traffic for one or more selected targets or cause total disruption in the network by stopping the routing entirely," Jake Williams, a former National Security Agency cyber-operator and co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, was quoted as saying. "Development of router malware is extremely costly, and Russia would likely use it only in locations where it contributes to accomplishing a high-value goal."
Olympic officials had earlier admitted that their computer systems came under attack during the Opening Ceremony, but they didn't divulge where the attack came from. The attack disrupted the internet as well as broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Printing of the tickets for the ceremony was also hit.
After the opening of the Games, the Fancy Bear cyberespionage group, which is linked to the GRU, released stolen emails from the accounts of IOC and anti-doping officials.
A similar attack was witnessed during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Russian athletes had to compete as neutrals at the 2018 Games, which came to a close Sunday, as the International Olympic Committee had banned Russia due to a coverup of systemic doping. Russia's national flag and anthem were also not allowed throughout the Games.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was in South Korea for the start of the Olympics. Also attending the ceremony was Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
According to a statement by South Korea, issued after South Korean President Moon Jae-in's meeting with a North Korean delegation, Pyongyang has said it is willing to engage in a dialogue with the United States, according to The Telegraph. The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Yong-chol, head of the Workers' Party United Front Department who is believed to be behind a 2010 attack on a South Korean warship.