Russians Embarrass US, Steal Sensitive White House Info With Basic Cyberattack

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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U.S. officials were told this week that hackers who have been attacking the Department of State’s systems for the past year are Russian– are their target was the president.

In addition to this, it’s been verified that the hackers had access to President Barack Obama’s schedule in real time, CNN reports.

Officials believe that the hackers moved through State Department networks to get closer to the White House, and that initial access was granted via an attack known as spear phishing– an incredibly basic and mundane tactic.

In other words, employees at the State Department were likely tricked into giving internal access to outsiders. This trick has been wildly successful, and according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, it’s a relatively common technique the Chinese and other foreign hackers use to breach networks.

The schedule is considered sensitive information and is not a classified document, but the deep penetration into federal government systems is disturbing nonetheless, and officials are still unsure if the hackers have been denied further access.

The cyberattack is widely considered to be one of the most sophisticated ever pulled off against the U.S. government, despite the fact that spear phishing is very common. U.S. intelligence agencies, the FBI and the Secret Service have joined forces in the ensuing investigation, which traced malicious activity through systems in multiple countries. Several revealing markers left behind in the trail indicated that the Russians were involved, anonymous officials informed CNN.

But when speaking to the media, officials downplayed discussions of attribution, refusing to officially place the blame on any particular country.

“In this case, as we made clear at the time, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity,” National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh told CNN. “As has been our position, we are not going to comment on [this] article’s attribution to specific actors.”

Some suspect that the initial reason for the attack last year was U.S. confrontation with Russia over Russian military involvement in Ukraine. At the time, the attack forced the State Department to shut down its email network.

The White House claimed that the hackers only had access to unclassified information, which is not entirely true because of the additional category of “sensitive” information.

Legislators such as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa were more aggressive about the implications of the breach, suggesting that labeling the schedule document as “sensitive” ignores the seriousness of the incident.

“It’s more than just sensitive,” Issa told National Journal. “Who the president meets with, where, when, even if it’s retrospectively, quite frankly, is material kept from Congress in many cases. So this is very sensitive information and it’s indicative of the fact that Russia is reassembling its evil empire in many ways.”

According to intelligence officials, cyberattacks have surpassed terrorism as the central threat to the U.S. national security.

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