A New York Times report on the makings of the Russian hacks that hit the DNC and Clinton campaign aide John Podesta revealed the shockingly inept response from both that allowed the hackers to gain access to tens of thousands of emails.
According to an internal DNC memo obtained by The Times, the FBI attempted to warn a DNC tech-support contractor about Russia’s attempted intrusion but the contractor dismissed it as a “prank” call.
According to The Times report, FBI Special Agent Adrian Hawkins called the DNC in September 2015 to warn that a known hacking group with ties to the Russian government called “the Dukes” had compromised at least one DNC computer. He called back multiple times after the first call as well. All of the calls were dismissed.
Via The Times:
The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.
Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.
“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.
The report also found that Podesta, a top aide in the Clinton campaign, was hacked as a result of a typo.
A separate team of Russian-backed hackers targeted numerous Democrats with a phishing attack designed to look like a Google alert to change your password.
Per The Times:
Hundreds of similar phishing emails were being sent to American political targets, including an identical email sent on March 19 to Mr. Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. Given how many emails Mr. Podesta received through this personal email account, several aides also had access to it, and one of them noticed the warning email, sending it to a computer technician to make sure it was legitimate before anyone clicked on the “change password” button.
“This is a legitimate email,” Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, replied to another of Mr. Podesta’s aides, who had noticed the alert. “John needs to change his password immediately.”
With another click, a decade of emails that Mr. Podesta maintained in his Gmail account — a total of about 60,000 — were unlocked for the Russian hackers. Mr. Delavan, in an interview, said that his bad advice was a result of a typo: He knew this was a phishing attack, as the campaign was getting dozens of them. He said he had meant to type that it was an “illegitimate” email, an error that he said has plagued him ever since.
While it’s no surprise that Russia attempted to repeatedly hack American political organizations, as they’ve attempted to do for years, the Times report is a stark reminder that both of the damaging email hacks that dominated much of the campaign coverage were incredibly easily avoidable.