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Chinese and Russian hackers were just sanctioned by Europe for the first time

EU officials imposed restrictions for ransomware and corporate espionage.

The European Council took unprecedented steps on Thursday.
The European Council took unprecedented steps on Thursday.Tauno Tõhk (CC BY 2.0)

The European Union imposed its first-ever sanctions for cyberattacks on Thursday, targeting Russian, Chinese, and North Korean groups connected to several major hacking incidents.

The action, which includes travel bans and asset freezes on individuals and organizations connected to ransomware and industrial espionage, follow earlier sanctions put in place by the United States.

Retaliation for Russian attacks: The most prominent target of EU action is unit 74455 of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, a group known as Sandworm. It is linked to the NotPetya ransomware attacks, which experts say began as a political attack against Ukraine but then quickly spread across the world and caused over $10 billion in damage. The group is also linked to hacking and turning off the Ukrainian power grid during the winters of 2015 and 2016. The sanctions also targeted four Russian spies linked to a cyberattack on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which investigates the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

China’s corporate espionage: In China, two citizens and a company, Haitai Technology Development, were sanctioned in connection with a hacking campaign known as Cloudhopper. The lengthy and sophisticated operation, carried out on behalf of Chinese intelligence services, targeted corporate secrets across six continents and is one of the most expansive espionage operations ever spotted.

North Korea’s worm: The North Korean firm Chosun Expo was sanctioned because of its role  supporting WannaCry , the 2017 ransomware outbreak that ripped through IT systems across the globe. The incident famously struck the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and brought down entire hospitals. 

“NotPetya and WannaCry were two of the most devastating cyberattacks in history, causing billions of dollars in damage and disrupting many vital systems,” says John Hultquist of the American cybersecurity firm FireEye. “At least one victim of NotPetya has claimed $1.3 billion in damage.”

The Russian, Chinese, and North Korean governments have repeatedly denied involvement in cyberattacks.

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