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​US officially accuses Russia of political cyber attacks

The first rounds of the Russian/American cyber war have been fired.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The hacking fight is on. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced "the US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations."

Election Vote

The US has accused Russia of hacking American citizens and political organizations.

This accusation has been coming for some time. The FBI was investigating a potentially Russian-based cyber-attack on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in June.

Afterward, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump encouraged Russia to hack his political enemies. The GOP presidential nominee said "I will tell you this -- Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the [Clinton] 30,000 emails that are missing."

According to the USIC, the "recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process."

Wikileak's revelation of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails has already lead to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman's resignation.

This isn't the first time Russian hackers have made such attacks. The Russians used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. Russian hackers have been accused of launching distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Russian news sites during elections.

The USIC also believes "based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities." Some Russian hackers have been attacking Russian President Putin's enemies for as long as eight years.

In addition, the FBI detected attacks on US state voting systems. Now, the USIC has declared that some of these scans and probes were "originated from servers operated by a Russian company."

Still, the US won't go so far as to say the Russian government is behind these state election system assaults. That's not because the Russians wouldn't want to interfere directly with American elections, but rather because the US electoral systems are so fragmented, they're no easy way to hack them.

The USIC stated: "It would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion," and that's because of the "decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process."

Nevertheless, the DHS urges state and local "election officials to be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance from DHS." These services include cyber hygiene scans of internet-facing systems, risk and vulnerability assessments, information sharing about cyber incidents, and best practices for securing voter registration databases.

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