Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said "patriotic minded" private Russian hackers unconnected to the government could be behind major hacks that interfered in other nations' elections.
“If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” Putin said at a press conference, according to the New York Times.
The U.S. intelligence community has said Russia was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Hill: Trump reelection would spur 'one constitutional crisis after another' Trump defends indicted GOP congressman MORE's campaign chairman last year. The hacks led to damaging leaks that roiled the U.S. presidential election.
Putin has frequently denied either breaches had any connection to Russia.
Many believe independent hackers carrying out pro-Russian attacks perpetrated the 2007 cyber attacks against Estonia, where a denial of service attack blocked internet traffic throughout the country.
But intelligence experts believe criminal hackers are often contracted by the Russian government to conduct espionage campaigns. A criminal contractor was among those fingered by the FBI for the Yahoo attack.
Malware and internet addresses used link the Estonia hackers to operations that German intelligence blamed for breaching that country's parliament and to an attack against the U.S. State Department in 2014.
During the State Department hack, National Security Agency and FBI investigators allegedly were given access to the workplace cameras of the Russian group attacking them from another western intelligence agency, and were able to monitor the attack via video feed.
Private security firms have also linked Russia to a breach at the campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron during his recent campaign, although it is unclear if that breach lead to leaked emails from the campaign days before the election.