Was there a role for Russian hackers in the 2016 election? The CIA concluded as much in early December, that the Russian government had deployed a number of computer hackers with the goal of aiding the Donald Trump campaign.
The headline reporting that revelation might as well read “BREAKING: Russians supported candidate who didn’t support war with Russia.” It’s hardly shocking — and Democrats were hardly the only intended targets Russian hackers may have had.
Russian hackers also attempted to hack the Republican National Committee — but were thwarted by security measures they had in place that, clearly, the Democratic National Committee lacked.
Since the election, Russian hackers have turned their attention to progressive groups in the U.S., looking to extort them for financial gain. According to Bloomberg:
Russian hackers are targeting U.S. progressive groups in a new wave of attacks, scouring the organizations’ emails for embarrassing details and attempting to extract hush money, according to two people familiar with probes being conducted by the FBI and private security firms.
At least a dozen groups have faced extortion attempts since the U.S. presidential election, said the people, who provided broad outlines of the campaign. The ransom demands are accompanied by samples of sensitive data in the hackers’ possession.
In one case, a non-profit group and a prominent liberal donor discussed how to use grant money to cover some costs for anti-Trump protesters. The identities were not disclosed, and it’s unclear if the protesters were paid.
At least some groups have paid the ransoms even though there is little guarantee the documents won’t be made public anyway. Demands have ranged from about $30,000 to $150,000, payable in untraceable bitcoins, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. At least twelve groups have reported faced extortion attempts.
Differing from the election hacking is the belief that there was a State influence to the hackings.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment when asked about the latest hacks. It is continuing to investigate Russia’s attempts to influence the election and any possible connections to Trump campaign aides. Russian officials have repeatedly denied any attempt to influence the election or any role in related computer break-ins.
“I would be cautious concluding that this has any sort of Russian government backing,” said John Hultquist, director of cyber espionage analysis at FireEye Inc., after the outline of the attacks was described to him. “Russian government hackers have aggressively targeted think tanks, and even masqueraded as ransomware operations, but it’s always possible it is just another shakedown.” “Ransomware” is code that prevents someone from accessing part of their computer’s system until a ransom is paid.
Thus far the evidence seems to suggest that the hacks are nothing more than financially motivated, perhaps as an attempt to redistribute some of George Soros’ money — with themselves as beneficiaries.
[Note: This post was written by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]