Russian hackers successfully breached Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account after targeting campaign staffers for only nine days, the Associated Press reports.
The cybersecurity company SecureWorks analyzed the security breach and determined Russian hackers, known as Fancy Bear, were able to evade substantial security measures by sending over 19,000 phishing emails to current and former Clinton campaign workers, supporters and contractors. The forensic investigation also yielded evidence that the hackers were closely aligned with the Russian government.
The phishing emails, designed to appear as if they were sent by Google, asked recipients to update their passwords but actually directed them to a website that collected their credentials.
The initial volley of emails were sent to Clinton’s 2008 campaign staff on march 10, 2016. One of the recipients was an alumni of the 2008 campaign and was also working on the 2016 run. She clicked the link, potentially giving the hackers access to her 2016 campaign contact list. One day later the hackers launched a second round of emails, this time directed at high level staffers within the 2016 campaign.
Nine days after launching the attack, Podesta clicked on one of the links and the hackers gained access to some 50,000 of his emails.
Despite having already breached a high level target, Fancy Bear continued the assault. The FBI noticed the torrent of phishing emails in late March and visited the Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn to warn of the intrusion. Clinton’s staffers received the agents warily due to the FBI’s role in the controversy surrounding Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Secureworks, a Dell subsidiary that had been tracking Fancy Bear, also noticed the flurry of phishing emails. The company realized the Russian hackers, having grown emboldened, had begun targeting a broad range of Democratic organizations including the Clinton Foundation, the Democratic National Committee and the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“As soon as we started seeing some of those hillaryclinton.com email addresses coming through, the DNC email addresses, we realized it’s going to be an interesting twist to this,” Rafe Pilling, a senior security researcher with Secureworks, told the AP.
The cache of emails the hackers gained access to and ultimately published through WikiLeaks, resulted in overwhelming backlash. The emails exposed high level coordination between the DNC and the Clinton campaign intended to ensure Clinton would win the nomination well before the primary among other ethically and legally dubious campaign operations.
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