The US government has officially blamed Russia for cyber hacks exposing 19,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) servers.
While Russia was previously named by the FBI and cybersecurity experts, this is the first time the White House has explicitly attributed the attack to Russia, saying it was trying to interfere with the US election.
“The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organisations,” read a joint statement from the directors of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security.
A supposedly Romanian hacker called Guccifer 2.0 claimed responsibility for the hacks, but security experts said the persona was likely a front for Russian hackers.
“The recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails 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,” the departments added.
“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorised these activities.”
The leaked emails revealed suggestions of an internal bias against Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s then-rival, Bernie Sanders, amid other embarrassing revelations for the DNC.
However, Putin’s spokesman responded to Washington’s statement by denying the allegation, according to the Guardian, and deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “This whipping up of emotions regarding ‘Russian hackers’ is used in the US election campaign, and the current US administration, taking part in this fight, is not averse to using dirty tricks.” He extended an offer for Moscow and Washington to work together on tackling cybercrime.
Washington also said some states’ “election-related systems” had been scanned and probed, but stopped short of saying Russia’s government was responsible, saying only that these attacks emanated from a Russian company’s servers.
Homeland Security is helping election officials safeguard their systems with cyber hygiene scans of any connected systems, sharing information about cyber attacks, and advising best practices to secure voter registration databases.
“[Homeland Security] has convened an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group with experts across all levels of government to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks potentially affecting election infrastructure and the elections process,” the departments added.
The unprecedented step by the US to formally accuse Russia of the DNC hacks follows a widespread spate of suspected Russian hacking.
KGB-connected hacking collective Fancy Bear spilled Olympic athletes’ medical data onto the internet following Russian athletes’ ban from Rio 2016, and has also been linked to attempts to thwart journalists’ investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines’ MH17 flight, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014.