Western military officials say Russia has been hacking into the cellphones of NATO soldiers stationed in Eastern Europe in an attempt to steal information, track troop levels and intimidate soldiers.
Troops, officers and government officials of NATO member countries who spoke with the Wall Street Journal says that the sophistication of the hacking indicates it’s being coordinated by the Russian government.
It’s believed that Russian agents are using antennae and specialized drones to hack into the phones of NATO soldiers stationed along Russia’s border with the Baltic states, tracking the soldiers’ whereabouts and stealing personal information off of their phones.
Western military officials say Russia has been hacking into the personal cellphones of NATO soldiers stationed in the Baltic states. Pictured above is a U.S. soldier in Estonia, near the Russian border
The Russians are using antennae and drones to hack into soldiers’ cellphones to track their movements and steal their personal information, it was reported. Above, a group of U.S. soldiers in Estonia in February, just across the river from Russia and its fortress of Ivanogorod
Military officials are split about the significance of the hacking though.
Some say that the hacking amounts to simple harassment, while others say that the Russians could cause serious communications issues that would sow confusion in the event of an actual military attack.
For example, the Russians could hack into a commander’s cellphone and send out phony commands in the event of an attack. Luckily, soldiers are trained to ignore commands from unsecured devices like personal cellphones.
In January, soldiers stationed at the Tapa Army Base in Estonia complained about ‘strange things’ happening to their phones before French and British soldiers were due to arrive.
An investigation determined that Russia had used portable telephone antennae to gain access to phones in the area – grabbing data from the phones and then erasing the information.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke to NATO soldiers in Estonia in July. In some cases, Estonian soldiers have been ordered to jump in lakes to make sure they don’t have their cellphones on them. Some have been getting around the rule by wrapping their smartphones in condoms
In another incident in March, one Estonian conscript’s phone started playing hip-hop music he didn’t download. Around the same time, contacts started disappearing from his phone.
After the January incident, soldiers at the base were ordered to take the SIM cards out of their phones and only use the internet at designated hot spots.
Commanding officers have been going so far as to force Estonian conscripts to jump in lakes to make sure that they don’t have their devices on them, but some have been getting around the rule by wrapping their phones in condoms.
Some of the hacking incidents suggest that the Russians are trying to track NATO troops and gauge their troop levels.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher L’Heureux took over as commander of a NATO base in Poland in July. Soon after, he says his phone was hacked into.
When he looked at his phone after returning from shooting drills, he saw that someone had initiated the Find My iPhone feature.
‘It had a little Apple map, and in the center of the map was Moscow,’ L’Heureux said. ‘It said, “Somebody is trying to access your iPhone”.’
He says he later learned that a hacker with a Russian IP address was trying to breach a second layer of password protection, and had been following his movements via the phone’s GPS.
L’Heureux says he knows of at least six other soldiers who have had their phones or Facebook accounts hacked.
In yet more disturbing cases, American soldiers say the hackers are using the personal information stolen off their phones to intimidate them.
One U.S. soldier in Latvia says he was standing in line for a sports event when a person came up to him and dropped personal information about his family members. The same thing happened to another U.S. soldier on a train in Poland. Both of the people who approached the Americans are believed to be Russian agents.
‘Russia has always sought to target NATO servicemen for intelligence exploitation,’ said Keir Giles, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Russia and Eurasia Program. ‘But such a campaign of harassment and intimidation is unprecedented in recent times.’