Western military and government officials of NATO's member countries said Russia has been hacking into soldiers' personal smartphones. Photo: Nikolas Giakoumidis / AP

Western military and government officials of NATO's member countries said Russia has been hacking into soldiers' personal smartphones in an effort to "gain operational information, gauge troop strength and intimidate soldiers," reports the WSJ. Russian officials denied any such operation.

Why it matters: Compromised cellphones of NATO soldiers could be exploited in several ways to Moscow's advantage. Russia could gain access to sensitive military information, as well as impact how NATO responds to Russian military actions, such as by sending out fake instructions to NATO troops.

Why they suspect Russia's behind it:
  • U.S. and other Western officials said the nature of the intelligence attacks suggest they were backed by a government entity, and noted that the high-level surveillance equipment being used is beyond what most civilians could access.
  • The attacks targeted the group of 4,000 NATO troops that deployed to Poland and the Baltic states this year to defend the European border with Russia amid heightened tensions with Moscow.
Examples of the attacks:
  • One solider, U.S Army Lt. Col. Christopher L'Heureux who took over as commander of a NATO base in Poland in July, said a hacker had breached his iPhone and attempted to hack into a second layer of password protection using a Russian IP address: "[I]n the center of the map was Moscow. It said, 'Somebody is trying to access your iPhone'."
  • In January, soldiers located near Estonia's border with Russia reported that "strange things" began happening to their phones in the days leading up to the arrival of French and British NATO troops. One officer said a probe revealed Russia had been erasing information, such as their contacts, from their phones.
Key quotes from experts and those involved:
  • "Russia has always sought to target NATO servicemen for intelligence exploitation. But such a campaign of harassment and intimidation is unprecedented in recent times," said Keir Giles, an associate fellow at Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia Program.
  • "I thought this would be easy…nobody's shooting at me. But this is different," said Col. L'Heureux of his Poland posting.
  • "We are already in an unconventional cyberwar. We know what neighborhood we live in," said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Go deeper

Updated 5 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Watch the full "Axios on HBO" interview with President Trump

In this episode of “Axios on HBO”, President Trump discusses his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming election and much more with National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan.

The interview was filmed on Tuesday, July 28 and aired Monday, Aug. 3 on HBO.

Mergers and acquisitions make a comeback

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A slew of high-profile headlines led by Microsoft's expected acquisition of social media video app TikTok helped bring the Nasdaq to another record high on Monday.

Why it matters: The mergers-and-acquisitions market looks like it's bouncing back, joining the revived credit and equity markets as well as the market for new public companies through IPOs and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).

U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns of racial inequality for small businesses

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Attitudes and beliefs about racial inequality are changing quickly as protests and media attention have helped highlight the gaps in opportunity between white- and minority-owned businesses in the United States.

Driving the news: A new survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife provided early to Axios shows a 17-point increase in the number of small business owners who say minority-owned small businesses face more challenges than non-minority-owned ones.