KIEV (REUTERS) – Ukraine has asked the FBI in the United States for help in investigating a suspected cyberattack by Russian military hackers on the energy company Burisma, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said on Thursday (Jan 16).
At the same briefing, the interior ministry also announced an investigation into the possible illegal surveillance of the then American ambassador to Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch, following messages contained in documents released by the US Congress this week.
Burisma Holdings was at the centre of attempts by US President Donald Trump last July to persuade Ukrainian authorities to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, son of Democratic US presidential contender Joe Biden.
Trump’s efforts have led to the Republican president being impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
California-based cybersecurity company Area 1 Security on Monday identified the hacking of Burisma and linked it to Russia’s Main Directorate of Military Intelligence, or GRU.
The same hacking group, known as “Fancy Bear” or “APT28” by cybersecurity researchers, breached the Democratic National Committee in 2016 in what US investigators described as part of an operation to disrupt that year’s election.
Russia’s defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment about Area 1 Security’s assertions.
“It is noted that the hacking attack was probably committed by the Russian special services,” Ukrainian interior ministry official Artem Minyailo said at a briefing.
Minyailo said Ukraine had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Area 1 Security for assistance regarding information that hackers stole personal employee data and emails from executives at Burisma and other companies.
These other companies included the media production company of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he said.
Zelenskiy was a comedian and actor before going into politics.
Hunter Biden used to have a seat on the board of Burisma.
There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens, who reject Trump’s allegations of corruption.
“The national police has initiated the creation of a joint international investigation team, to which FBI representatives have already been invited by the ministry,” Minyailo said.
The US Department of Justice referred Reuters questions to the FBI, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The US Department of State and the US embassy in Kiev also did not immediately respond, while representatives for the White House could not be immediately reached.
YOVANOVITCH SURVEILLANCE PROBE
A leak of stolen data could potentially affect the impeachment process and the 2020 US presidential election in November.
What data the hackers were looking to steal is not clear, Area 1 said. Breaching Burisma could yield communications from, to, or about Hunter Biden, who served as a director between 2014 and 2019.
A source close to Burisma told Reuters earlier this week the company’s website had been subject to multiple break-in attempts over the past six months but did not provide further details.
Ukraine’s cyber police said they had not formally received any request from Burisma for help.
Ukrainian officials said they were also probing allegations that the former ambassador to Ukraine was subject to illegal surveillance before Trump fired her in May.
These allegations surfaced in messages which were released on Tuesday as the US Senate prepares to begin the impeachment trial of Trump. A top Democrat in Congress had called them “profoundly alarming”.
A batch of documents released included encrypted messages between Florida businessman Lev Parnas and Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, disparaging Yovanovitch and apparently providing updates on her movements in Kiev.
Hyde denied wrongdoing, saying on Twitter he had never been in Kiev.
Interior ministry official Denys Lenets said at the briefing that Ukraine’s position was not to interfere in US domestic affairs, but added: “Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state.”
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