Rus­sian hack­ers tar­get Se­nate email, re­port says

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY SHANE HAR­RIS shane.har­ris@wash­post.com Devlin Bar­rett con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The Rus­sian hack­ers who stole emails from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee as part of a cam­paign to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion have been try­ing to steal in­for­ma­tion from the U.S. Se­nate, ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished Fri­day by a com­puter se­cu­rity firm.

Be­gin­ning in June, the hack­ers set up web­sites meant to look like an email sys­tem avail­able only to peo­ple us­ing the Se­nate’s in­ter­nal com­puter net­work, said the re­port by Trend Mi­cro. The sites were de­signed to trick peo­ple into di­vulging their per­sonal cre­den­tials, such as user­names and pass­words.

The As­so­ci­ated Press was first to write about the re­port.

Th­ese “spear phish­ing” tech­niques are fre­quently used by the Rus­sian group, which the com­pany dubs Pawn Storm, to read or copy emails or other pri­vate doc­u­ments.

“This group is po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated,” said Mark Nun­nikhoven, Trend Mi­cro’s vice pres­i­dent for cloud se­cu­rity.

Trend Mi­cro has linked the group, bet­ter known as Fancy Bear, to ac­tiv­i­ties tar­get­ing political or­ga­ni­za­tions in Ger­many and the cam­paign of French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron. In 2016, U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­cluded that the group, which of­fi­cials say is as­so­ci­ated with Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, stole emails from the DNC that were sub­se­quently pro­vided to Wik­iLeaks.

“The U.S. Se­nate, as a tar­get, seems to rep­re­sent the next step” in the group’s am­bi­tions, Nun­nikhoven said, be­cause it is both a political body and also an in­sti­tu­tion of govern­ment.

Nun­nikhoven said that his com­pany had given in­for­ma­tion about Pawn Storm’s ac­tiv­i­ties to the Se­nate. The of­fice of the Se­nate sergeant at arms, which han­dles com­puter se­cu­rity for the cham­ber, de­clined to com­ment.

The Trend Mi­cro re­port didn’t say whether the oper­a­tion tar­get­ing the Se­nate had suc­cess­fully stolen in­for­ma­tion, and Nun­nik- hoven de­clined to say be­cause the mat­ter is still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

A U.S. of­fi­cial said Rus­sian and Chi­nese hack­ers reg­u­larly tar­get Amer­i­can politi­cians, govern­ment em­ploy­ees and their as­so­ci­ates, but de­clined to dis­cuss whether any re­cent hack­ing ef­forts had been suc­cess­ful.

Pawn Storm’s cam­paign against the Se­nate comes as law­mak­ers pre­pare for midterm elec­tions in Novem­ber. Nun­nikhoven said that the group has a pat­tern of tar­get­ing political or­ga­ni­za­tions in the run-up to elec­tions.

Tar­get­ing sen­a­tors and their staff is “con­sis­tent with the pat­tern of what we’ve seen in the last few years,” when, ahead of a ma­jor political event, the group “tries to gain a foothold to gain ac­cess to an or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he said.

Trend Mi­cro con­cluded that hack­ing cam­paigns against political or­ga­ni­za­tions were un­likely to dis­si­pate.

“Political or­ga­ni­za­tions have to be able to com­mu­ni­cate openly with their vot­ers, the press and the gen­eral pub­lic. This makes them vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ing and spear phish­ing,” the com­pany said in its re­port.

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