Putin says Russia doesn't hack others, but patriots might have

With the hype surrounding Russia's potential involvement in the US election still rampant, President Vladimir Putin has denied his country has ever engaged in hacking activities.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

President Vladimir Putin has insisted that Russia as a country has never engaged in hacking activities, but conceded that some "patriotic" individuals may have, likening a hacker's free will to that of an artist in a speech delivered to news agencies on Thursday.

Putin lamented what he described as "Russo-phobic hysteria" in the United States, saying such rhetoric makes it "somewhat inconvenient to work with one another or even to talk", adding that "someday this will have to stop".

The Russian leader insisted that his country would "never engage in that at the state level".

He also alleged that some evidence pointing at Russian hackers' participation in cyber attacks -- although he did not specify which -- could have been falsified in an attempt to smear Russia.

"I can imagine that some do it deliberately, staging a chain of attacks in such a way as to cast Russia as the origin of such an attack," Putin said. "Modern technologies allow that to be done quite easily."

Putin added that while the Russian state has never been involved in hacking, it was "theoretically possible" that Russia-West tensions could have prompted some individuals to launch cyber attacks.

"Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting," he said.

"The hackers are the same. They would wake up, read about something going on in interstate relations and if they feel patriotic, they may try to contribute to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia."

At the same time, Putin argued that hackers, wherever they come from, can't sway election outcomes because the public opinion isn't that easy to manipulate.

"No hackers can have a radical impact on an election campaign in another country," Putin said.

US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party emails and helping US President Donald Trump's election victory, although there is no hard evidence to suggest the country or Putin was directly behind the contentious win.

Last month, Trump suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey amid the agency's investigation into the president's potential links to Russia.

The dismissal took place as Comey led an inquiry into whether the Russian Kremlin's state-sponsored hacking team had managed to swing the US election in President Trump's favour -- and how deeply potential corruption has taken root, with the probe confirmed a month prior.

The general consensus of law enforcement, the FBI, and the conclusion of the CIA's own investigations suggest Russia was involved in election scheming, something Russian officials previously dismissed as "amusing rubbish".

While the congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia have shattered Moscow's hopes for a detente with Washington, Putin said Russia had been encouraged by Trump's campaign promises to improve Russia-US ties and emphasised that Moscow still hopes to forge a constructive dialogue.

"We are patient, we know how to wait and we will wait," Putin said on Wednesday.

Speaking with journalists at CeBit earlier this month, Eugene Kaspersky said he would not be surprised if there was Russian interference in the last US election.

"No surprise if the Russian characters raided the air -- unfortunately I don't have any hard data because we were not involved in the investigation," he said.

"Do I think it was a real influence on the result of the election? I don't know. I don't believe in a visible influence or if this information had anything to do with the result of the election."

He did say, however, that when speaking of Russian hackers to be aware of the fact that particular people could actually hail from Russia, Ukraine, Silicon Valley, or even Sydney.

"Maybe they were Russian citizens, I'm not surprised," the Kaspersky Lab chief added.

As leader of one of the countries most affected by the WannaCry ransomware that claimed hundreds of thousands of victims across 150 countries, Putin insisted last month that his country was not responsible.

"Russia has absolutely nothing to do with it. I find it strange that in these circumstances too I am hearing something to the contrary," he said.

Putin also took a swipe at US intelligence agencies. "I think the leadership of Microsoft have said directly that the United States' special services were the original source of this virus".

With AAP

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