Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
"The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC's system they also were able to read all email and chat traffic," the paper said, citing committee officials and security experts.
Those officials also said some of the hackers had access to the DNC's network for about a year.
Shawn Henry, president and chief security officer of CrowdStrike Services and former FBI agent, told MSNBC his team was able to identify and track the hackers to the Russian government.
"We know with certainty, my time in the bureau and now at CrowdStrike, that foreign intelligence services are constantly interested in political processes. They're interested in strategies. They're interested in foreign policy, etcetera," Henry told MSNBC. "And the DNC and other NGOs that have been targeted over the years by this very, very sophisticated group with a high degree of capability and some very, very sophisticated technology."
The DNC told the Post that no financial, donor or personal information appears to have been accessed, which suggests the breach was traditional espionage, not the work of criminals, the Post reported.
"It's the job of every foreign intelligence service to collect intelligence against their adversaries,” Henry told the Post.
CrowdStrike told the Post that it identified two separate groups that infiltrated the DNC's network. One had gained access last summer and was monitoring the DNC's communications.
The other infiltrated the network in late April and targeted the opposition research files. It was this breach that set off the alarm, the Post reported.
"Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none," CrowdStrike co-founder and chief technology officer Dmitri Alperovitch, told The Hill.
The hack has raised questions over why the Russian government would want campaign opposition research on the Republican nominee, the Hill notes. Theories range from getting information on what the foreign policy of a Trump presidency might look like all the way to finding possible embarrassing information to use against Trump as leverage.
"They're looking for any kind of insight into how our positioning towards Russia is changing or will change as a result of the election," John Hultquist, head of cyber espionage at the security firm FireEye, told the Hill. "The biggest driver for intelligence collection is change — and nothing changes America's posture like an election."
Yet another theory is that the Russians want Trump to win and plan on giving him the information so his campaign can know what the Democrats are planning to do, especially since Trump once called it a "great honor" for Putin to refer to him as a "strong leader."
Alperovitch and other security experts, though, don't buy into that suggestion, according to the Hill, since there appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary in the breach. Alperovitch called the idea "conspiracy theories."
Though CrowdStrike is not certain how the hackers got into the DNC system, they suspect they used a spear-phishing effort, where emails are sent to DNC employees in an effort to get them to download software that allows the hackers in.
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