The United States has formally accused the Russian government of directing recent cyber attacks that led to the release of emails through WikiLeaks and other groups, accusing Moscow of trying to interfere with the U.S. elections.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a joint statement on Friday that the intelligence community is now "confident" that the recent cyber attacks were directed by Russia.
"We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities," the statement said. It did not say how the U.S. would respond, but one official told AFP that the U.S. would respond "at a time and place of our choosing."
The U.S. did not immediately release a list of cyber attacks that it believes were directed by Russia, but the statement cited the recent disclosure of emails through WikiLeaks, DCLeaks and an online persona named "Guccifer 2.0".
Cyber security analysts who investigated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) earlier this year had already pointed to Russia as the likely perpetrator, but Saturday's statement marked the first time that the U.S. government backed up the claim.
News of a link to Russia has caused speculation that Moscow is attempting to help Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has spoken positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin and once publicly called on Russia to "find" the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
"These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process," the U.S. government said on Saturday. "Such activity is not new to Moscow - the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there."
The most notable incident happened in July when WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee and allegedly showed a bias among top staffers against the campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who was the main opponent of Hillary Clinton.
The release of the emails provoked anger among supporters of Sanders and led to the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as other top party officials. But WikiLeaks claims it has additional documents linked to Clinton and has promised to release them before next month's election.
Saturday's statement from the U.S. government added that it has not yet determined who was responsible for recent cyber attacks on voter registration systems in more than 20 states, but it noted that most of the attacks originated from servers operated by a Russian company.
"The [U.S. Intelligence Community] and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion," the statement said.
The Department of Homeland Security pointed out that the election system in the U.S. is decentralized, and added that voting machines are not connected to the internet. "Nevertheless, DHS continues to urge state and local election officials to be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance from DHS," it said.
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