U.S. Government Officially Blames Russia for DNC Hack

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Russia denies hacks as U.S. government eyes response.

The Obama administration officially blamed Russia Friday for recent political hacks involving the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

In a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the most senior levels of the Russian government are accused of authorizing the widespread hacking campaign.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” the statement reads.

russiahack_small U.S. Government Officially Blames Russia for DNC Hack Cyber Security

russiadnc U.S. Government Officially Blames Russia for DNC Hack Cyber Security

The statement – which notes the involvement of leaking websites in the dissemination of hacked content – also argues the campaign is intended to disrupt the election process.

“The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” it continues. “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

The DNC was first to blame the Russian government last June after an investigation by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike reportedly identified two sophisticated adversaries nicknamed COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR.

“We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well,” CrowdStrike’s Dmitri Alperovitch wrotes at the time. “In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis.”

Only one day later a hacker calling themselves Guccifer 2.0 disputed CrowdStrike’s analysis, alleging responsibility for the hack before leaking DNC documents.

Suspicions were raised soon after though as metadata analysis of the alleged Romanian hacker’s documents, which included the DNC’s Trump opposition research, suggested Guccifer 2.0 had used Russian and Cyrillic language setting when editing the leaks. The hacker has since been accused of being a disinformation campaign-created cover identity intended to shift blame away from the Russian state.

DCLeaks, a relatively small publishing site which has also released emails and documents concerning U.S. political figures, has similarly been accused of being a Russian creation given ties to Guccifer 2.0 and the DNC hackers.

Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and other Russian government officials have publicly denied involvement in the hacks.

“I know absolutely nothing about it,” he told Bloomberg News last month. “Russia has never done anything like this at the state level.”

According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News writer Ali Watkins, the White House just two weeks prior attempted to keep “two of Congress’s top intelligence officials from naming the Kremlin as the originator of the string cyberattacks.”

“The public accusation was of such concern to the administration that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was personally involved in the negotiations over releasing it, according to a congressional source,” Watkins writes.

Given the unprecedented nature of the ongoing incident, US officials are now reportedly being forced to “write the playbook” for a response as they go, reports BuzzFeed News’ Sheera Frenkel.

“Actions that the US could take range from placing new sanctions on Russia, to issuing criminal indictments for individuals involved, to taking diplomatic action, such as expelling Russian diplomats from the United States,” Frenkel writes. “And while cybersecurity experts agree that the US is likely already engaged in counter cyber-espionage against Putin’s government, more offensive actions against Russia could be the next step.”

Regardless of who is responsible for the hack and subsequent release of documents, the situation will undoubtedly increase tensions in what many are fearing is a new Cold War.