Dems hacked again: Why Russia may want to influence the US elections

Another batch of Wikileaks documents is targeting the Democratic Party. Could it all be an attempt by Russian intelligence to influence the presidential elections?

Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters/File
St. Basil's Cathedral, in the heart of Moscow, is located not far from the Russian security services' headquarters, where some researchers believe major hacks against the US originated.

The Democratic Party is once again the subject of a Wikileaks dump, as information stolen from the party's servers in June continues to be made public.

The newest set of documents came from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the fundraising organization for the House Democrats, and included cell phone numbers and email addresses of nearly 200 lawmakers. The hacker claiming responsibility for both this leak and the leak prior to the Democratic National Convention, Guccifer 2.0, has been linked to Russian intelligence.

The main concern this time around is whether the hack represented a routine cybersecurity attack or a more pointed attempt to influence the presidential election on the part of the Russian intelligence. The F.B.I is leading the investigation of the attack on the Democratic Party's servers that occurred in June, but at this point, officials are fairly certain that Russian intelligence is behind the attack.

Dmitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, told the Monitor he determined that the attackers “were operating from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Moscow time, which gave us an indication we’re dealing with government workers rather than cybercriminals burning the midnight oil for profit.”

While Guccifer 2.0 hinted that there may be more emails and files leaked in the future, the fallout of this second round of emails will likely prove less embarrassing than the first, which showed the Democratic National Committee’s bias against Bernie Sanders during the primary elections and prompted the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Additionally, investigators found similarities between this attack and previous hacks by Russian intelligence, as well as malicious code that was built on Russian servers.

Still, confusion remains – and in the world of Russian cybersecurity, confusion is a tactic.

"This is what cyberconflict actually looks like," James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told the Monitor. “The problem in the US is we’re very militarized, so we tend to think about attacking infrastructure. The Russian approach is much more political and about trying to manipulate public opinion."

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly claimed that the Russian hacks are a plan to interfere with the presidential election to ensure that Donald Trump, who has said positive things about Russian president Vladimir Putin in the past, wins the election. After all, the first email dump did not reflect well on Clinton.

The most solid connection between Trump and Putin is that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has ties to the former prime minister of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after the Ukrainian revolution in 2014.

Mr. Manafort unofficially worked for Mr. Yanukovyach in the early 2000s, helping to improve his public image (as he is currently doing for Trump) and ultimately playing “a decisive role in the victory of Yanukovyach,” according to Ukrainian political expert Oleg Kravchenko.

With Manafort by Trump’s side, the campaign has made efforts to prevent the GOP from pledging support for, or giving weapons to, the Ukrainian rebels currently fighting against Russia, a move that surprised and worried many more traditional Republicans.

While some are worried about what the hack and its potential connections to Russia could mean for the election, Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee on the National Security Agency and cybersecurity, said that the phone numbers and emails addresses being made public were not, in and of themselves, a cause for concern.

“If there were the ability for someone to hack into those accounts, that really gets worrisome,” he told the New York Times. “Someone could cause a lot of damage if they were able to send emails out from a member’s account, but I’m not hearing that that’s a risk at this point.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine how just having a bunch of numbers, cell phones, and emails would in any way affect the election,” Mr. Himes added. “It wasn’t totally unexpected.”

One overarching concern is that if this is cyber warfare through public manipulation, it is something the United States has little experience dealing with.

“If this indeed turns out to be a cyberattack and leak conducted by a foreign actor to influence our elections, that would be a grave matter that should come with serious consequences,” Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement

“That foreign actors may be trying to influence our election – let alone a powerful adversary – should concern all Americans of any party.”

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