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Report: Hacks into Democratic Party may have included phones


By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News

One day after the hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers was brought up in the first presidential debate, it now appears that federal investigators are checking whether cybercriminals attacks other devices from Democratic Party leaders.

Reuters reported Tuesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was checking whether hackers tried to infiltrate mobile phones from the DNC. Party leaders and federal officials suspect the Russian government, which they believe initiated the server attack, also organized the attempts on the phones.

According to Reuters: “FBI agents had approached a small number of Democratic Party officials to discuss concerns their mobile phones may have been compromised by hackers, people involved said. It was not clear how many people were targeted by the hack or whether they included members of Congress, a possibility that could raise additional security concerns for U.S. officials.”

While Democrats believe the Russians are behind the attacks, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declined to point the finger at the administration of Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin.

“I mean it could be Russia,” Trump said at Monday’s debate at Hofstra University. “But it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Since news of the initial hacks broke earlier in the summer, concerns have spread to other parts of the presidential campaign. It got to the point where U.S. Sen. Tom Carper wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in August inquiring about the resources DHS had to help states protect their election systems.

Last week, Johnson responded by saying he brought together election officials and federal officials to discuss the state of the IT infrastructure.

“I also emphasized that cyber experts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are available to assist state and local election officials in securing their systems, just as we do for businesses and other entities across the spectrum of the private and public sectors,” Johnson said in his letter to the Delaware Democrat.

The fact that the election infrastructure and other systems may have been attacked isn’t surprising to IT security experts. Tim Erlin, the senior director of IT security at Tripwire, said that in most compromises, the degree of the attack goes well beyond what was first uncovered.

“It’s difficult to guess at the end game of an attacker that’s as well-resourced and expansive as Russia,” Erlin said. “A nation-state adversary doesn’t generally plan one move, but looks at multiple, multi-step options to achieve a set of goals. This isn’t credit card theft. It’s modern espionage.”

State and local boards of election can voluntarily request assistance from Homeland Security to conduct scans and vulnerability assessments on their systems. Johnson said several states have already begun to reach out for help.

“Although these reports [about unknown actors targeting state election databases] are troubling, I believe the American public should have confidence in our current election systems and the efforts of state and local governments to make the risk of a successful cyberattack remote,” Carper said in a statement. “With that said, the FBI and DHS are still encouraging state and local governments to take appropriate additional precautions to enhance the security of their election-related computer systems.”


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