Germany's domestic intelligence agency on Thursday said it had seen a striking increase in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing German society, and targeted cyber attacks against political parties.
"We see aggressive and increased cyber spying and cyber operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament and employees of democratic parties," Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the domestic BfV intelligence agency, said in statement.
Maassen, who raised similar concerns about Russian efforts to interfere in German elections in an interview with Reuters last month, cited what he called increasing evidence about such efforts and said further cyber attacks were expected.
The agency said it had seen a wide variety of Russian propaganda tools and "enormous use of financial resources" to carry out "disinformation" campaigns aimed at the Russian-speaking community in Germany, political movements, parties and other decision makers.
The goal of the effort was to spread uncertainty in society,"to weaken or destabilize the Federal Republic of Germany," and to strengthen extremist groups and parties, complicate the work of the federal government and influence political dialogue.
The agency said it had seen a "striking increase" in spea-phishing attacks attributed to a Russian hacking group APT 28, also known as "Fancy Bear" or Strontrium, the same group blamed for the hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee this year and a cyber attack on the German parliament in 2015.
The attacks were directed against German parties and members of parliament, the agency said, adding they were carried out by government bodies posing as "hacktivists".
"Propaganda and disinformation, cyber attacks, cyber espionage and cyber sabotage are part of the hybrid threat facing western democracies," Maassen said.
German officials have accused Moscow of trying to manipulate German media to fan popular angst over issues like the migrant crisis, weaken voter trust and breed dissent within the European Union so that it drops sanctions against Moscow.
But intelligence officials have stepped up their warnings in recent weeks, alarmed about the number of attacks.
Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not rule out Russia interfering in Germany's 2017 election through Internet attacks and misinformation campaigns.
Russian officials have denied all accusations of manipulation and interference intended to weaken the European Union or to affect the U.S. presidential election.
U.S. intelligence officials had warned in the run-up to the Nov. 8 presidential election of efforts to undermine the credibility of the vote that they believed were backed by the Russian government.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Janet Lawrence)