U.S. Democrat HQ computer hacking by Russians raises cybersecurity concern

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Paul McNeil discusses the recent hacking of Democrat HQ by Russians and the implications of the growing cyber security threat for countries across the globe. 

RUSSIAN HACKERS, enjoying support from Moscow, are responsible for a recent breach of the Democratic National Committee servers in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) confirmed in a statement recently.

This is exactly what many cybersecurity firms had been asserting ever since DNC employee emails began leaking online this summer. This entire subject has once again raised Cold War-like concerns about growing cybersecurity threats, and especially at the level of two major countries taking on each other in a war in the digital battlefield and maybe beyond.

Will this have implications on other parts of the globe?

From the DHS Press Office 7 October 2016:

The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” the joint DNS and ODNI statement read, adding, “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. 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.

Any surprises? No

The U.S. intelligence community attributing such hacks to Russia doesn’t come as much of a surprise. CrowdStrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect, amongst other firms, had all come to similar results in their independent probes of the cyberattacks.

The DHS-ODNI statement does, however, place credit in theories raising the possibility that the Guccifer 2.0 facade was crafted hastily as the cyberattacks, with the goal to take credit for the caused breach and actually divert attention from hackers who enjoyed state support from most probably the Kremlin.

Despite the FBI issuing repeated warnings of voter registration databases and entire state election systems have been targets of cyberattacks, the DHS and ODNI confirmed that the November nationwide poll does not face a major hacking attack due to the decentralised characteristic of the election system that is run on a state-by-state method. These two orgs also referred to the fact that state elections systems are not linked to the internet, adding also that a checks-and-balances system has been installed to block any possible voter fraud.

Intrusions made at state-levels, however, had not been associated to Russia, the DHS and ODNI emphasised.

The DHS and ODNI added:

'Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian government.'

What comes next?

Now that Washington has officially declared Moscow as the party to blame for the DNC cyberattack, it is quite probable to see the Obama Administration take action with a significant response. As media reports in the past have shown, by citing experts, the response shown by Washington to such a cyberattack would fall in the same suit of a physical quarrel and may even involve a diplomatic response, economic sanctions or hacking of a retaliatory nature.


U.S. President Barack Obama has been very reluctant on accusing Russia and retaliating by attacking Moscow’s systems. 

In the G20 Summit hosted by China in September, Obama said:

“Our goal is not to suddenly, in the cyber arena, duplicate a cycle of escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past, but rather to start instituting some norms so everybody’s acting responsibly."

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has chosen much more hawkish remarks in comparison to Obama on this matter. The U.S. must be ready to “take the fight to those who go after us,” in relation to hackings and cyber warfare, she has said.

In the meantime, her rival, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, responded to the issue by actually voicing doubts about Moscow’s role in the DNC hack during the first presidential debate held in September.

Said Trump:

“I don’t know if we know it was Russia who broke into the DNC. Maybe it was. It could also be China. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

Is Australia a target?

Australia has, in 2016, actually been considered a very primary target for cyberattacks – ransomware infections, to be precise – based on research by Trend Micro. The period of April and May of this year has witnessed above 224,000 ransomware attacks, with Angler Exploit Kit being behind the majority of such cyberattacks.

From January to May of 2016 alone more than 66 million threats from across the globe and related to ransomware have been discovered and blocked by Trend Marco.

Nearly 700,000 cases were in Australia and above 19,000 targeting New Zealand.

Yes, you may call the U.S.-Russia cyberspace row the continuation of the Cold War into the 21st century. However, a general perspective into this matter raises major concerns about implications of such attacks posing major threats for countries across the globe.

You can read more from Paul McNeil on his blog TechMoralitics or follow him on Twitter @mcneil_lfc.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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