What we know about Rus­sia’s elec­tion hack

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


Rus­sia has pledged ret­ri­bu­tion af­ter the US turfed out dozens of diplo­mats and im­posed sanc­tions over al­leged cy­ber­at­tacks aimed at skew­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Moscow has con­sis­tently de­nied it was be­hind the hack­ing and in­sists Wash­ing­ton has never pro­vided any firm proof of its guilt. Therein lies the problem: ir­refutable ev­i­dence de­ter­min­ing the iden­tity of the hack­ers and the rea­son for their at­tacks is hard, if not im­pos­si­ble, to find. Here is what is known so far about the “who, what and why” of the hack­ing strikes dur­ing the re­cent US elec­tion cam­paign.

Who hacked what?

In May, US Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­tor James Clap­per warns of cy­ber­at­tacks against the cam­paigns, with­out spe­cific ref­er­ence to any source. On June 15, CrowdStrike, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm hired by the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate break-ins in its com­puter sys­tems, points to two sep­a­rate Rus­sian in­trud­ers. “Both ad­ver­saries en­gage in ex­ten­sive po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic es­pi­onage for the ben­e­fit of the gov­ern­ment of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion and are be­lieved to be closely linked to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment’s pow­er­ful and highly ca­pa­ble in­tel­li­gence ser­vices,” it says. CrowdStrike says hack­ing en­tity Cozy Bear, linked to Rus­sia’s GRU mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency, in­ter­cepted Demo­cratic Party com­mu­ni­ca­tions from June 2015 on, while Fancy Bear, linked to Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity ser­vice (FSB), tar­geted and stole DNC dossiers re­lated to then Repub­li­can fron­trun­ner Don­ald Trump be­gin­ning in March. A month later, the Wik­iLeaks web­site be­gins pub­lish­ing the pi­rated ma­te­rial. On Septem­ber 5, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama warns Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin over the hack­ing dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing in China, ac­cord­ing to US of­fi­cials. On Oc­to­ber 7, the 17 US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­clude the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment is be­hind the cy­ber­at­tacks and that they are “in­tended to in­ter­fere with the US elec­tion process”. Mean­while, Wik­iLeaks pub­lishes a near-daily dose of emails stolen from the Gmail ac­count of John Podesta, chair­man of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign, up un­til just be­fore the elec­tion. Se­cureWorks, an­other cy­ber­se­cu­rity con­sul­tant, says Podesta’s emails were hacked by the same groups who hacked the DNC. On De­cem­ber 9-10, the Wash­ing­ton Post and New York Times re­port that the CIA con­cluded Moscow in­tended to help Trump’s cam­paign by re­leas­ing the hacked ma­te­rial.

The bil­lion­aire pres­i­dent-elect dis­misses the CIA con­clu­sion as “ridicu­lous”. Rus­sia de­nies all claims. On De­cem­ber 12, lead­ing Con­gres­sional law­mak­ers call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s role in the cy­ber­at­tacks. On De­cem­ber 15, Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham re­veals his cam­paign ac­counts were also hacked by Rus­sians ahead of the Novem­ber vote.

On De­cem­ber 29, Obama an­nounces a bar­rage of pun­ish­ment for Moscow over the al­leged at­tacks, in­clud­ing the de­por­ta­tion of 35 sus­pected in­tel­li­gence agents and sanc­tions against the GRU and FSB in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. The FBI and De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity also re­lease a brief­ing to pro­vide “tech­ni­cal de­tails re­gard­ing the tools and in­fra­struc­ture used by the Rus­sian civil­ian and mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence Ser­vices to com­pro­mise and ex­ploit net­works and end­points as­so­ci­ated with the US elec­tion.”

Could Rus­sia pull this off?

The tal­ents of Rus­sian state-serv­ing hack­ers are now the stuff of leg­end. De­scended from the tra­di­tion of Soviet eco­nomic es­pi­onage, they broad­ened the scope to also probe and punish po­lit­i­cal tar­gets. Rus­sia was blamed for a cy­ber­at­tack on Es­to­nia in 2007, when the Baltic state’s main in­ter­net sites crashed af­ter be­ing flooded with sur­plus re­quests, in a so­called dis­trib­uted de­nial of ser­vice, or DDoS, at­tack. It knocked out the na­tional emer­gency hot­line for more than an hour.— AFP

MOSCOW: The FSB head­quar­ters, grey build­ing at cen­ter.— AP

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