Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Russian military targeted U.S. voting-software supplier days before the 2016 election, possibly altering vote tallies and putting Donald Trump in the White House

(From newsweek.com)
Russian military intelligence conducted a cyber attack against at least one U.S. supplier of voting software just days before the 2016 election, according to a report yesterday at The Intercept.

The report, based on an internal document from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), provides perhaps the strongest evidence so far that Russia manipulated the voting process and had an impact on vote tallies. It could be the bombshell that causes the Trump-Russia scandal to blow wide open. As a side issue, it might make U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), a generally thoughtful fellow, look foolish for ill-considered comments he made late last week regarding 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Is this serious stuff? Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old federal contractor from Augusta, Georgia, was arrested yesterday and charged with leaking classified information to a news outlet. Her arrest apparently is connected to The Intercept story.

The Intercept is an online publication, started in February 2014, and created/funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. It started as a platform to report on documents released by Edward Snowden. From yesterday's Russian-hacking story:

Russian military intelligence executed a cyber attack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light. . . .

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document.

The document adds significant detail to an assessment released by the Obama administration in January 2017. That assessment focused on a Russian propaganda effort to undermine public faith in the Democratic process. But the new information goes much further than that:

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company’s devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions.

The spear-phishing expedition was central to the Russian scheme and might have given hackers command over key computer systems:

As described by the classified NSA report, the Russian plan was simple: pose as an e-voting vendor and trick local government employees into opening Microsoft Word documents invisibly tainted with potent malware that could give hackers full control over the infected computers.

But in order to dupe the local officials, the hackers needed access to an election software vendor’s internal systems to put together a convincing disguise. So on August 24, 2016, the Russian hackers sent spoofed emails purporting to be from Google to employees of an unnamed U.S. election software company, according to the NSA report. Although the document does not directly identify the company in question, it contains references to a product made by VR Systems, a Florida-based vendor of electronic voting services and equipment whose products are used in eight states.

The spear-phishing email contained a link directing the employees to a malicious, faux-Google website that would request their login credentials and then hand them over to the hackers. The NSA identified seven “potential victims” at the company. While malicious emails targeting three of the potential victims were rejected by an email server, at least one of the employee accounts was likely compromised, the agency concluded. The NSA notes in its report that it is “unknown whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised all the intended victims, and what potential data from the victim could have been exfiltrated.”

How disturbing could this scenario get? U.S. officials have said on multiple occasions that vote tabulations were not altered in the 2016 presidential election. But now, we know that might not be true. From The Intercept:

Mark Graff, a digital security consultant and former chief cybersecurity officer at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, described such a hypothetical tactic as “effectively a denial of service attack” against would-be voters. But a more worrying prospect, according to Graff, is that hackers would target a company like VR Systems to get closer to the actual tabulation of the vote. An attempt to directly break into or alter the actual voting machines would be more conspicuous and considerably riskier than compromising an adjacent, less visible part of the voting system, like voter registration databases, in the hope that one is networked to the other. Sure enough, VR Systems advertises the fact that its EViD computer polling station equipment line is connected to the internet, and that on Election Day “a voter’s voting history is transmitted immediately to the county database” on a continuous basis. A computer attack can thus spread quickly and invisibly through networked components of a system like germs through a handshake.

What could this mean for our country, for our democracy? The implications almost are too profound to imagine:

All of this taken together ratchets up the stakes of the ongoing investigations into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, which promises to soak up more national attention this week as fired FBI Director James Comey appears before Congress to testify. If collusion can ultimately be demonstrated — a big if at this point — then the assistance on Russia’s part went beyond allegedly hacking email to serve a propaganda campaign, and bled into an attack on U.S. election infrastructure itself.

Whatever the investigation into the Trump campaign concludes, however, it pales in comparison to the threat posed to the legitimacy of U.S. elections if the infrastructure itself can’t be secured. The NSA conclusion “demonstrates that countries are looking at specific tactics for election manipulation, and we need to be vigilant in defense,” said Schneier. “Elections do two things: one choose the winner, and two, they convince the loser. To the extent the elections are vulnerable to hacking, we risk the legitimacy of the voting process, even if there is no actual hacking at the time.”

Throughout history, the transfer of power has been the moment of greatest weakness for societies, leading to untold bloodshed. The peaceful transfer of power is one of the greatest innovations of democracy.

“It’s not just that [an election] has to be fair, it has to be demonstrably fair, so that the loser says, ‘Yep, I lost fair and square.’ If you can’t do that, you’re screwed,” said Schneier. “They’ll tear themselves apart if they’re convinced it’s not accurate.”

That brings us to Hillary Clinton -- and Al Franken. Based on her comments last week at The Code Conference in California, Clinton clearly does not believe she lost an honest election. From a CNBC report on the event:

Clinton . . . said that the majority of content surrounding the election was "fake news," originated in Russia. She also alluded to data firm Cambridge Analytica, which has said it helped Donald Trump's campaign. . . .

It's important for people in tech and business to understand the marriage of the "domestic fake news operations," the sophisticated Russian cyber units and the Republicans' more flush data repository, Clinton said.

"Putin wants to bring us down," Clinton said. "It's way beyond me. .... I believe that what was happening to me was unprecedented. Over the summer we went and told anyone we could find that the Russians were messing with the election and we were basically shooed away. .... We couldn't get the press to cover it."

Many on the right have accused Clinton of spewing sour grapes, saying in so many words, that she needs to "get over it." Even a prominent Democrat, Franken, joined that chorus in an interview last week with Katie Couric. Franken was asked if he agreed with a Democratic operative who said it was time for Clinton "to move on." Here is his answer:

"Yep. Yeah, I mean, I love Hillary, I think she was very prepared to be president of the United States," Franken said. "I think she's the smartest, toughest, hardest working person I know, and I think she has a right to analyze what happened. But we do have to move on."

In so many words, Franken was saying that Clinton and other Democrats need to move on from an election loss. But we don't know for sure that it was an "election loss." It's looking more and more like an "election theft."

If our democracy is to survive, we can't "move on" from that.


Anonymous said...

Bombshell, incoming!!!

Anonymous said...

This is sickening to read. Even more sickening to think people like Al Franken want to "move on." Bull chips.

Anonymous said...

We need a mechanism for getting Trump out of the White House until this investigation comes to a conclusion. The whole Trump administration needs to be put in cold storage until we know if he is, in fact, the duly elected president. We need an interim president and an interim administration -- now.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:04 --

You are on target. Such a mechanism does not seem to exist. If that's the case, it needs to be create -- by Congress, SCOTUS, someone.

Anonymous said...

I'm angry about this young woman in Georgia being arrested. She reported events connected to likely treason -- gross misconduct from a foreign adversary -- and she gets arrested for it?

Outrageous! She should be reward, not arrested.

Steve said...

It has been strongly suggested for years that US election systems and tabulators have been open to hacking and interception.
The Brad Blog has been covering this for a long time. Of course, as the chief beneficiaries were the GOP and the principal manipulators were Rovian agents, the Powers That Be was OK with this. But collusion between the GOP agents and the Russians make it a whole different ball game. Did the NSA ever look at election hacking in previous elections? It is hard to believe they were unaware. Maybe they considered that acceptable. But now it no longer matters if it was collusion by neglect or by intent. Anyone accepting stolen goods is an accessory to theft and equally guilty. This is a very dangerous and unprecedented situation. Not just for America but for the Western Alliance!

Anonymous said...

What an embarrassment if it's proven our country let this happen.

legalschnauzer said...

Steve --

Well stated. It's so profound that one has a hard time wrapping his head around it. Imagine if this kind of thievery is allowed to continue, unabated? And as you say, this has huge consequences for all Western nations. It's bad enough that it might put an illegitimate president in office. But when it puts a dangerous loon like Trump in office, it really gets scary.

Anonymous said...

I hope the public raises hell about Ms. Winner's arrest.

Anonymous said...

Great point, Steve. What if Putin uses hacking to install puppets in Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy? What could he do then?

Anonymous said...

LS- The Republican Party and it's red state base nominated and voted for Donald Trump.

Irrespective of what the outside meddlers did, the Republican Party is responsible for Donald Trump. They are also responsible for the long list of Republican deplorables that they have elected and ratfucked into office over the years.

As of right now Trump is their huckleberry and as long as the grannies get starved and the rich donors get their tax cuts and the nations healthcare and Social Security are done away with...then they don't give a flying fuck what eggs they or his secret friends had to break to get him elected.

Red state...that may have a new meaning if we get to the bottom of all this.

Anonymous said...

@9:14 Why are you angry she got arrested? The information she printed was dated May 5th. That is new information that may have led somewhere. Now we will never know exactly where. I have no problem with a whistle blower like Snowden, whose information had already sat unused, but you can't blow the whistle on an ongoing investigation and act surprised your going to jail. She broke the law and knew what she was doing. Had she sat on the information for a while and knew it wasn't being followed up on, then maybe it would be acceptable to release it.

legalschnauzer said...

@10:33 --

Thanks for making some very interesting points. Not sure the election could have been tampered with if it weren't for the Red State voters who reflexively vote GOP, even when they run a dunderhead like Trump. This election should have been a runaway, not even close. There was ample evidence during the campaign that Trump lacked the integrity, the temperament, and the intelligence for the job. But he's white and toed the conservative line on key issues, so people voted for him anyway, providing cover for Putin's meddling. This election shows the GOP really does not care about social issues like abortion rights. They just want a white "conservative" in office to protect them from the dark hordes and the great unwashed.

Anonymous said...

The CNN article, to which you link in the third paragraph, has lots of interesting information about Ms. Winner. I hope people will read it in full. For one thing, she served her country in the U.S. Air Force. She's more of a patriot than Donald Trump and his sorry-ass kids ever will be.

Anonymous said...

@10:41 --

I'm not @9:14, and I can't speak for him/her, but I share his/her views. I suspect Ms. Winner is like a lot of us who don't trust our government anymore. Perhaps she heard Al Franken's statements, or similar statements from others, and thought, "Oh crap, they are going to cover this up and expect us to 'move on.'" Maybe she saw something in her work environment that convinced her a cover up was planned. I'll admit I'm no expert on the facts and law of all this. But I don't see how she harmed U.S. interests. To me, she supported our interests by releasing evidence that a foreign adversary tampered with vote tallies in our election. And I'm not sure I agree that her actions should interfere with any ongoing investigation.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting article on Reality Leigh Winner:


Ed said...

I believe there's been tampering with election machines for a long time; most notably in Ohio and Diebold election machines. Who knows where else. California has banned and decertified some Diebold machines and software versions. And knowing what cheaters Republicans are, I'm convinced they've flipped votes on these machines.