America’s indictment of Russian hackers underlines the cyber risks facing US politics

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s charges against 12 members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency accused of hacking related to the 2016 US presidential election are a stark reminder of the ways in which technology can be used to disrupt democratic processes.

Speaking at a press conference announcing the charges today, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy US attorney general (pictured at center above), said the indictment (PDF) didn’t contain allegations that the hacking had actually influenced the outcome of the 2016 election.

But it provides plenty of details about just how extensive and well-planned the attack was on targets that included the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic National Committee, and the Clinton campaign. Here are a few of the things that immediately stand out.

Humans let the hackers in: The Russians didn’t need to probe systems for software weaknesses; they allegedly got in via the front door by sending “spearphishing” e-mails to trick campaign officials to click on bogus links like “Hillary-clinton-favorable-rating.xlsx” that revealed their passwords.

Once in, they knew how to get data out: Using malware dubbed X-Agent, the indictment says, the hackers were able to infect computers at the DCCC and gain access to the DNC’s network. They got far more than just e-mails, too—the malware allowed the…

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