Russia is a leading suspect in a hacking attack on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in the theft of e-mail and internal reports, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the probe who asked to not be identified because the inquiry is continuing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the breach, which some U.S. lawmakers and cybersecurity specialists had already linked to Russia. The Russian government reiterated a previous statement denying involvement in the hack, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday. In a statement, the FBI made no mention of Russia and offered no details on where it was focusing its investigation.
“The FBI is investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter,” the bureau said in a statement Monday. “A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”’
Democratic officials and cybersecurity company CrowdStrike Inc.
said last month that hackers tied to the Russian government gained access to servers at the DNC. On Friday, three days before the start of the party’s national convention, about 20,000 e-mails and other internal documents from the DNC were posted online by WikiLeaks, resulting in the
ouster of Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“That foreign actors may be trying to influence our election — let alone a powerful adversary like Russia — should concern all Americans of any party,” said Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee.
The Russian hackers who hit the DNC
burrowed much further into the U.S. political system, sweeping in law firms, lobbyists, consultants, foundations and think tanks, according to a person familiar with investigations of the attacks.
An internal investigation led by CrowdStrike traced the hack to two groups associated with Russian intelligence, possibly working independently. Two other cybersecurity firms, Fidelis Cybersecurity and FireEye Inc., also confirmed the attribution to the Russian hackers, based on malware samples and other data from the DNC network.
“There isn’t any doubt that it was the Russians that broke into the DNC,” said James Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist and senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s not as clear that the Russians are responsible for the leak.”
Lewis said government experts have to exclude all other possibilities, including that there was a separate loss of information and the leaker is using the Russians as cover.
“It’s consistent with their practice. The Russians have done things like this before,” Lewis said. “But the evidence on the leak itself just isn’t as clear at this point.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump ridiculed allegations that Russia released the DNC e-mails to benefit his campaign.
“The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me,” Trump said on Twitter Monday.
Obama administration officials deferred questions on the investigation to the FBI. Speaking more generally, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “We know that there are a number of actors, both state and criminal, that are looking for vulnerabilities in the cybersecurity of he United States. And that includes Russia.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook was also cautious in addressing questions about the potential role of Russians hackers in the breach.
“I want to let the experts speak on this,” Mook said Monday, adding that analysts have concluded the hack was “perpetrated by Russian state actors.” He said that “considering the calculated release,” experts have inferred that “it was the Russians who perpetrated this leak for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”