On the day a massive data hack affecting over 1billion Yahoo users back in 2013 has hit the headlines, it is worth reflecting on the (allegedly state-sponsored) attack on the US Democratic National Committee which might have allowed attackers to influence the outcome of various votes and opened tens of thousands of emails to public scrutiny.
After an email breach allowing ingress traced by the FBI to a known hacker group, an agent sent a brief warning to senior DNC staff, but there was suspicion as to his credibility, whether this was itself a prank call, and the initial opportunity to halt the attack was lost.
The hackers then had several months to roam freely among US government and state systems, hacking emails, planting malware and accessing secrets.
As a result, during the recent US election campaign, many top players received phishing emails warning that their emails had been compromised, and they were advised to click links to reset their passwords. Some fell for this, causing further breaches.
One who did receive a warning was John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. Several of his aides had access to his emails, and noticed the warning, but an error was made by one campaign aide who wrote, instead of 'illegitimate':
“This is a legitimate email. John needs to change his password immediately.”
Once clicked, around 60,000 emails stretching back a decade in Mr. Podesta's Gmail account were unlocked for the hackers, many then released by WikiLeaks over the last month of the campaign, disclosing private tensions and secrets inside the campaign.
The DNC did eventually impose security measures, locking down their systems and wiping many infected computers and laptops; but the resulting influence of the leaks on the campaign will potentially be felt for years to come. A recent New York Times article goes into details about the scope of the breach, and its investigation sheds some light on the alleged connection with state sponsored cyber crime.
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