News Brief

America Knocks Russian Trolls Offline in Cyber Strike

For months leading up to the American midterm elections last November, worry mounted among U.S. intelligence officials that Russia would try to disrupt the polls as a strike against democracy.

It turns out, America struck first.

The U.S. military launched an offensive cyber attack by cutting Internet access for several days at one of Russia’s most infamous troll factories, in a pre-emptive move against potential Kremlin interference. The result: Americans elections went off without a hitch.

The first known cyber attack targeted the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg, where Russians are employed to pose as Americans on social media networks, posting and creating politically-themed groups with the intent to stir discord.

“The fact that the 2018 election process moved forward without successful Russian intervention was not a coincidence,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to the Washington Post, who first broke the story of the U.S. cyber campaign.

Financed by close Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the IRA is the most prominent troll factory operating in Russia, with the U.S. Justice Department charging the agency with leading attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Pentagon officials called the campaign a successful first operation for the U.S. Cyber Command since receiving new power last year by President Donald Trump and Congress.

In Russia, the reported U.S. attack has raised debate about a new bill in parliament to create a “sovereign Internet.” Sanctioned by the Kremlin, the legislation would create an autonomous internet fully under the control of Russia’s Internet watchdog.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the U.S. cyber attack was a new reason to support the bill, warning that the November attack was just one of many originating from U.S. territory. Russian state media asked how “safe is it to be part of an international spiderweb?”

The legislation, first introduced several weeks after the 2018 U.S. attack, has passed its first reading, with it supporters warning that Russia could be completely shut off from the global Internet.

“Everyone of course is worried that we’ll be left completely without access to the Internet,” said Ludmila Bokova, a member of Russia’s Federal Council to state television. “We have to prepared so that we’re not left without the Internet.”