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Russian hackingFBI yet to ask for access to DNC servers

Published 6 January 2017

It has been nearly a year after Russian government hackers began a systemic hacking campaign against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. It has been nearly six month since the same Russian government hackers hacked the Clinton campaign and stole e-mails and internal memos from campaign officials. It is now six months since the FBI said it was examining the DNC hacking, yet, the bureau is yet to examine the DNC servers. A DNC spokesperson said the bureau has not yet asked for access to the servers.

It has been nearly a year after Russian government hackers began a systemic hacking campaign against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. It has been nearly six month since the same Russian government hackers hacked the Clinton campaign and stole e-mails and internal memos from campaign officials. And it is now five month since the two Russian intelligence agencies behind the hacking – the FSB and GRU – coordinated with WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange a publication schedule of the stolen e-mails, a schedule aimed to inflict maximum damage on Clinton in order to help Donald Trump win the November elections.

It is now six months since the FBI said it was examining the DNC hacking, yet, as Buzzfeed reports, the bureau is yet to examine the DNC servers. A DNC spokesperson said the bureau has not yet asked for access to the servers.

The FBI is not alone in not examining the hacked DNC serverfs. Buzzfeed was told by a U.S. intelligence officials that no U.S. government agency has run an independent forensic analysis on the system.

“The DNC had several meetings with representatives of the FBI’s Cyber Division and its Washington (D.C.) Field Office, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and it responded to a variety of requests for cooperation, but the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News in an e-mail.

A private security company, CrowdStrike, was hired by the DNC last spring to look into the DNC’s security configuration, and determined in May the hackers working for the FSB and GRU infloitrated to the DNC’s servers.

“CrowdStrike is pretty good. There’s no reason to believe that anything that they have concluded is not accurate,” the intelligence official told Buzzfeed, adding they the U.S. intelligence community was confident Russia was behind the widespread hacks.

“Beginning at the time the intrusion was discovered by the DNC, the DNC cooperated fully with the FBI and its investigation, providing access to all of the information uncovered by CrowdStrike — without any limits,” said Walker, whose e-mails were stolen and later published.

Buzzfeed notes that it is not always the case that the FBI investigates cyberattacks by state actors against private entities. Three cybersecurity companies BuzzFeed News spoke with said that it was “par for the course” for the FBI to do their own forensic research into the hacks, but experts from these companies refused to comment on the DNC case.

On Thursday last week, the U.S. issued a 13-page report which said that the U.S. intelligence community was confident in its conclusions that Russian government agencies, acting on orders from the highest levels in the Russian government, interfered in the 2016 elections. On Thursday of this week, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. intelligence community was even more confident now about the Russian role and motives.

This coming Monday, the administration will give Congress a detailed report about the Russian hacking.

The difficulties the U.S. intelligence community faces stem from the fact that it cannot say too much about what it knows – and how it came by this knowledge. Sharing the full information with the public would violate a cardinal rule of intelligence: the protection of sources and methods.

This built-in obstacle to sharing intelligence information with the public allows president-elect Trump and some of his supporters to continue to dismiss the intelligence community’s conclusions.