Case Studies

Reporting on attribution can feel like an exercise in reporting on uncertainty, since even high-confidence attributions cannot be 100% certain. Knowing where and how to fill these uncertainty “gaps” — by asking for more data, identifying credible experts to help make sense of the evidence, and questioning speculation offered without evidence — can be time-consuming and challenging.

To illustrate the complexities journalists face in reporting on attribution, we present two examples of recent attribution judgments that received media coverage. Each case study identifies the evidence behind the attribution claim, reasons why that attribution claim might have been particularly difficult to report, examples of how the attribution was covered in the press, and what we can learn from this press coverage.

We will periodically update this site with new case studies. Readers can also submit suggestions for case studies to internetobservatory@stanford.edu.

Did the GRU Hack Burisma Holdings?

In January 2020, a report from the security company Area 1 claimed that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) had been leading a phishing campaign targeting the Ukranian energy company Burisma Holdings, starting in November 2019. The Ukrainian company first came to U.S. public attention that fall, when news broke of the Trump administration’s efforts to look into the Biden family’s activities in Ukraine. … More Did the GRU Hack Burisma Holdings?