DNC email leak marks new front in state-sponsored cyber attacks

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as chair after WikiLeaks leaked embarrassing DNC emails .
Image: Charles Dharapak/ AP

Like a perfectly executed back somersault, Russian hackers allegedly violated into the Democratic National Committee servers, scooped up thousands of emails and then deposited them in the hands of the whistleblowing activist group WikiLeaks, which released them 48 hours before the commencement of the Democratic National convention. They then stuck the landing by prompting the resignation of party leader Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. No, WikiLeaks has not uncovered its source, the Russians told nyet ! to at least one DNC hack, and Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump supposes the whole thing is a joke( and maybe stupid ).

However, theres no denying that the hack, which was widely reported last month but actually took place over the course of a year, happened and that cyber security firm CrowdStrike believes it was conducted by Russian Intelligence Bureau.( CrowdStrike declined to comment for my story .)

A terrible turning point

Long run are the days when people hacked for amusement and notoriety. Taking control of a local system or maybe a public, digital display to send your message was fun, empowering and essentially harmless. More lately cyber crooks have focused on identity steal and relied heavily on social engineering to capture their prey. Those acts speedily transformed hacking from relatively minor annoyances into a serious concern for individuals and organizations. The addition of activist groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous along with, increasingly, state-sponsored hackers has transformed the cybercrime into a nightmarish scenery with global implications. Cyber crime no longer encompasses what were witnessing here. These are Cyber attacks in the truest sense of the word.

From Russia, with love

Activist groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous along with, increasingly, state-sponsored hackers has transformed the cybercrime into a nightmarish scenery with global implications

Credit for releasing the highly embarrassing DNC emails leaks at the perfect moment to disrupt the Democratic National Convention goes to WikiLeaks, but I do wonder how long Russian intelligence, which may have been retaliating for the embarrassing Panama Papers leak, held onto the treasure trove of data before handing it over to WikiLeaks and if they offered any guidance on release timing. Russias interest in this presidential election is obvious, but whats less clear is why Russia would want to hobble the Democrats and, potentially, prop up Trump. Trump has expended considerable bytes tweeting about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Most of the time, he characterizes the current U.S. administration as weak in the face of Russias growing strength. However, Putin and Trump have expressed something stronger than respect for one another it might even be fair to call it admiration. In addition, according to Talking Points Memo , Russian entities have considerable financial interests in Trumps campaign and his companies. In other words, the more you read about Trump and Russia, the more you realize that theres likely nothing random about the original DNC hack or the timing of the email dump.

The best action is cyber action

Im not arguing that we are learning something shocking and new about cyberattacks. Few, if any, still question whether or not hackers can break through any defense, although the defenses they meet are rarely as strong as they could be( the DNC called in CrowdStrike after it was hacked) and high profiles attacks and data releases have been inducing headlines for years. In December 2014, Sony suffered through one of the worst and most damaging cyberattacks in history. It set, in part, a template for what was to come. The hackers may have gotten into Sonys servers not through a brute force attack, but via phishing. The attacker was probably been supported by North Korea, which was angry about Seth Rogens 2014 slapstick The Interview , a irony about assassinating North Koreas Kim Jung Un( trust me, its a comedy ). As with this latest hacker, the data the hackers discovered eventually made its style to WikiLeaks, and the many revelations unearthed there eventually cost Sony millions.

Hackers get a vote

Thus far, this DNC hack and WikiLeaks email dump has cost exactly one undertaking, and yet the implications are greater. The turning point is not necessarily the cyber-attacks themselves( consider OPM, Sony, Target, JP Morgan, etc. etc .) but the immediate post-hack PR damage control, told Cybersecurity Ventures CEO and founder Steve Morgan in an email.

‘They draft talent much the route professional athletics squads do recruiting the youngest and brightest as well as seasoned veteran hackers’

As for the target the DNC that doesnt amaze Morgan at all. Nation states have been collecting surveillance information from( perceived) antagonists for decades. A Russian hack on a U.S. political party should come as no surprise. Russian snoops have gone digital, as have Chinese snoops. Morgan also noted that state-sponsored hacking groups run like a business. They draft talent much the way professional sports teams do recruiting the youngest and brightest as well as seasoned veteran hackers, Morgan explained. The almost nostalgic image of renegade coders sniffing far flung servers from the relative safety and consolation of their basement has been replaced by armies of state-sponsored hackers( who are usually still geographically spread out while remaining hacking-network-connected) launching subtle social engineering, as well as brute-force, attacks on ever bigger targets. Intelligence gathering and disruption are their aims, but this new front, real-time political change and, perhaps, gain, is something more. Whoever handed WikiLeaks these emails, Russian intelligence-backed hackers or otherwise, theyre all now playing an active role in the U.S. general elections. That somehow seems bigger and scarier than anything thats come before. Read more:

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