The Russian government is responsible for hacking into, stealing and then leaking information owned by major U.S. political figures and organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, according to a Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence statement Friday.
Prior to the statement, the White House, FBI, DHS, NSA and ODNI had all declined to attribute the aforementioned cyberattacks to Russia.
Damaging internal emails leaked to WikiLeaks and subsequently published by supposed hacker Guccifer 2.0 and the mysterious DCLeaks.com are connected to “Russian-directed efforts,” according to a statement provided to CyberScoop.
President Barack Obama had been regularly updated on the intelligence community’s analysis and was aware of their conclusions, a senior White House official told CyberScoop.
“Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” a joint statement by ODNI and DHS reads.
Private emails supposedly written by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a prominent White House staffer and several Democratic political operatives were accessed and then published onto DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0’s blog in recent weeks.
A joint statement shared two weeks ago by Democratic House and Senate intelligence committee leaders Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., similarly attributed Russian intelligence agencies and called on “[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough had reportedly urged Feinstein and Schiff to reconsider releasing the aforementioned statement, which effectively put increased pressure on the White House to formally attribute previous cyberattacks, according to BuzzFeed News.
Beyond the slew of recent data breaches that has plagued U.S. political organizations, U.S. election systems — specifically, voter registration databases — have also been probed for vulnerabilities by hackers, DHS officials say. At this point, however, DHS and ODNI are “not … in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government” though in most cases the probes are originating from servers operated by a Russian company.
“The administration’s acknowledgement that Russian intelligence agencies are attempting to influence the U.S. election and undermine public confidence conveys the seriousness of the threat,” Schiff said in a statement. “Attempted hacking of our election system is intolerable, and it’s critical to convince the Russian government to cease these activities. If it does not, we must develop a strong response.”
As a reaction to Russia’s proven aggression in cyberspace, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, told CyberScoop that the Obama administration should expel Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S. It falls to the executive branch first to react, and then Congress can look at legislation, Hurd said. He noted there are a number of tools the executive branch should look at using.