Data theft is steadily refashioning itself as a political weapon. This past December, Barack Obama took advantage of his final days in office to take retaliatory measures against Russia. The Obama administration attributes to its Muscovite counterpart the cyberattacks carried out over the course of the recent presidential elections whose goal it was to tip the scales in Donald Trump’s favor for the presidential bid.
In an official statement, Obama announced the measures that include the expulsion of 35 Russian operatives and the introduction of new sanctions against certain people and organizations, including the two primary governmental espionage agencies.
The still-president Obama made this decision despite the Kremlin’s denial of its participation in the cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee and other organizations in the Democratic Party. These cyberattacks came in the form of a massive email leak (containing many messages that damaged Hillary Clinton’s image), divulged by WikiLeaks to the media and considered to be a crucial element in the results of the election.
Shortly after the White House announcement, the FBI and the NSA published a report accusing Russia of the leak, which affected not only the Democratic Party but also John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. The document includes technical details of the tools and infrastructure presumably used by Russian intelligence services to “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities”. These latter victims remain unnamed.
According to the report, that initiative was part of a broader plan that included attacks against other political organisms, corporate infrastructures, data processing centers, universities, and big businesses.
What Targeted Attacks Came Into Play?
The analysis alludes to two kinds of “spear phishing” attacks, a term which refers to fraudulent emails sent from addresses that belong to or seem to belong to one of the victim’s contacts. The first of them came about in the summer 2015. It was directed toward at least one person from a “U.S. political party”, who received an email with attachments that activated a malware download. This was then able to spread itself throughout the system and “exfiltrate emails from several accounts”.
In September of this year, the FBI warned the DNC for the first time that their systems were under attack by a group known as “the Dukes”, with ties to the Russian government.
The second attack took place in the spring of 2016. This time, the report tells us, the attacks consisted of mass emails requesting a change of password from users, a strategy used to access partymembers’ email accounts. While the investigations are underway, Trump continues to deny that the Russian government had anything to do with the intervention made on his behalf.
There is no doubt that with these and other recent developments in the field of cyberattacks, protecting ourselves and our future is key. Over the coming months we will begin to see more and more news on this prickly subject, a clear example of the influence that hacktivism and cybercrime can have in the geopolitical sphere.
Targeted attacks are commonplace. The only way to face them down is with an advanced cybersecurity solution like Adaptive Defense, keeping your company safe from the sorts of silent breaches that can happen without anyone noticing. Until it’s too late.