Russian Hackers Target US 10/23 06:12
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. officials said that Russian hackers have targeted
the networks of dozens of state and local governments in the United States in
recent days, stealing data from at least two servers. The warning, less than
two weeks before the election, amplified fears of the potential for tampering
with the vote and undermining confidence in the results.
The advisory from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's
cybersecurity agency describes an onslaught of recent activity by a Russian
state-sponsored hacking group against a broad range of networks, some of which
were successfully compromised. The alert released Thursday functions as a
reminder of Russia's potent capabilities and ongoing interference in the
election even as U.S. officials publicly called out Iran on Wednesday night.
The advisory does not identify by name or location those who were targeted,
but officials say they have no information that any election or government
operations have been affected or that the integrity of elections data has been
"However, the actor may be seeking access to obtain future disruption
options, to influence U.S. policies and actions, or to delegitimize (state and
local) government entities," the advisory said.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said it would be extremely difficult for
hackers to alter vote tallies in a meaningful way, but they have warned about
other methods of interference that could disrupt the election, including
cyberattacks on networks meant to impede the voting process. The interference
could continue during or after the tallying of ballots if Russians produce
spoofed websites or fake content meant to confuse voters about election results
and lead them to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome.
A broad concern, particularly at the local government level, has been that
hackers could infiltrate a county network and then work their way over to
election-related systems unless certain defenses, such as firewalls, are in
place. This is especially true for smaller counties that don't have as much
money and IT support as their bigger counterparts to fund security upgrades.
Officials have nonetheless sought to stress the integrity of the vote, with
FBI Director Christopher Wray saying Wednesday, "You should be confident that
your vote counts. Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed
with a healthy dose of skepticism."
On Thursday, Chris Krebs, the head of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and
Infrastructure Security Agency, said officials don't have reason to believe
that hackers were looking for election infrastructure or election-related
information, and aren't aware of any activity "that would allow them to come
anywhere near a vote." He said the alert was issued in regard to the scanning
of county networks for vulnerabilities, not specifically to the targeting of
"The election-related risk is the fact that they were in or touching an
election system," he said.
The threat from the Kremlin was mentioned but not especially emphasized
during a hastily called news conference on Wednesday night, when officials said
Russia and Iran had obtained voting registration information --- though such
data is sometimes easily accessible. But most of the focus was on Iran, which
officials linked to a series of menacing but fake emails that purported to be
from a far-right group and were aimed at intimidating voters in multiple
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said the operation
was aimed at harming President Donald Trump, though he didn't elaborate on how.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against five
Iranian entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for
attempting to influence U.S. elections.
Despite Iran's activities, Russia is widely regarded in the cybersecurity
community as the bigger threat to the election. The U.S. has said that Russia,
which interfered in the 2016 election by hacking Democratic email accounts and
through a covert social media effort, is interfering again this year in part
through a concerted effort to denigrate Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
U.S. officials attribute the recent activity to a state-sponsored hacking
group variously known as DragonFly and Energetic Bear in the cybersecurity
community. The group appears to have been in operation since at least 2011 and
is known to have engaged in cyberespionage on energy companies and power grid
operators in the U.S. and Europe, as well as on defense and aviation companies.
Aviation networks are among the entities that officials say were recently
targeted, according to Thursday's advisory.
According to the advisory, the hackers have obtained user and administrator
credentials to enter the networks and moved laterally inside to locate what
they felt would be "high-value" information to steal. In at least one breach,
officials say, the hackers accessed documents related to network configurations
and passwords, IT instructions and vendors and purchasing information.
As of Oct. 1, the advisory said, the hackers have exfiltrated data from at
least two servers.
John Hultquist, the director of threat intelligence at FireEye, said
Energetic Bear moved to the top of his worry list when the cybersecurity firm
observed it breaking into state and local governments in the U.S. that
administer elections, due to it having targeted election systems in 2019.
Hultquist said he does not think Energetic Bear has the ability to directly
affect the U.S. vote but fears it could disrupt local and state government
networks proximate to the systems that process votes.
"The disruption may have little effect on the outcome. It may be entirely
insignificant to the outcome -- but it could be perceived as proof that the
election outcome is in question," he said. "Just by getting access to these
systems they may be preying on fears of the insecurity of the election."