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The basement of the Democratic National Committee’s Washington, DC, headquarters holds one of the most fitting images to come out of the hacks that dogged Democrats in the 2016 presidential election. On the left: a 1960s era file cabinet that was jimmied open during the 1972 Watergate break-in. On the right: a DNC server that was hacked by what the US intelligence community says were Russian operatives.
That image is from an 8,300-word New York Times article about how two separate Russian government groups hacked the DNC.
The hacks first came to light in June, and the rough outline is well known.
For months, the intruders had free reign over the DNC’s computers. Over time, the Russians extended their reach into the Gmail accounts of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, former secretary of State Colin Powell, and others.
The series of DNC blunders, bordering on ineptitude, that allowed the attacks to succeed has been well documented.
Those blunders are now coming into sharper focus.
Like the feeble filing cabinet, the shortcomings exposed in the New York Times‘ blow-by-blow account show just how ineffective and doomed the DNCs’s defenses were against a much-better organized adversary.
Equally important, the report reveals how a “series of missed signals, slow responses, and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack”—apportioned in almost equal parts by members of the FBI, the DNC, and the Clinton campaign—allowed the hacking drama to play out.
According the report, the FBI first warned a DNC tech-support contractor of a network intrusion in September 2015.
The contractor wasn’t sure if the person on the other end of the phone call was, in fact, the special agent he claimed to be.
So the warning went largely unheeded. Neither the FBI nor DNC officials bothered to address the hack, and the comedy of errors continued to play out for the next 14 months. Reporters Eric Lipton, David E.
Sanger and Scott Shane wrote:
The low-key approach of the FBI meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top DNC officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems.
In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the DNC, including Mrs.
Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later.
Even Mr. Podesta, a savvy Washington insider who had written a 2014 report on cyberprivacy for President Obama, did not truly understand the gravity of the hacking.
President Obama also comes up for criticism for his unwillingness to more directly address the hack in the months after it was brought to his attention.
The report comes as President-elect Donald Trump continues to deny the near-unanimous assessment among multiple intelligence agencies of Russian involvement.
As Ars Senior IT Editor Sean Gallagher noted Monday, the evidence implicating Russia is solid enough to be taken seriously by anyone professing to be intellectually honest.
The NYT opus, thanks to its breadth of sourcing and painstaking, fly-on-the-wall account, not only strengthens that argument.
It does so with narrative flare.
Listing image by Pixabay