Mid-August 2008: The Chinese government apparently hacks into the 2008 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Admiral Dennis Blair (Credit: Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA)

Hacking teams traced back to China are caught breaking into the computers of the Obama and McCain campaigns, resulting in high-level warnings to Chinese officials to stop. The computers, laptops, and mobile devices of top campaign aides and advisers who receive high-level briefings are particularly targeted. “Spear phishing” is used to get targets to open an attachment containing a virus that would allow data to be stolen from their computer.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe will later say he got a call in the middle of August 2008 alerting him to the attack and that the FBI was investigating. However, the virus is extremely sophisticated, and it takes months for it to be completely removed from the networks of the two campaigns.

In a May 2009 speech, President Obama will make a general mention of the attacks: “Hackers gained access to emails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans.” However, the involvement of China’s government won’t be publicly revealed until June 2013.

Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010, will comment that year, “Based on everything I know, this was a case of political cyberespionage by the Chinese government against the two American political parties. They were looking for positions on China, surprises that might be rolled out by campaigns against China.” (NBC News, 6/6/2013)

June 6, 2013: Chinese government hacker attacks on US government targets have steadily increased since 2008.

Shawn Henry (Credit: public domain)

Shawn Henry (Credit: public domain)

In the summer of 2008, the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain had their computers successfully breached by hackers apparently working for the Chinese government. According to NBC News, “US officials say that Chinese intrusions have escalated in the years since, involving repeated attacks on US government agencies, political campaigns, corporations, law firms, and defense contractors—including the theft of national security secrets and hundreds of billions of dollars in intellectual property.”

Shawn Henry headed up the FBI’s investigation of the 2008 attacks and now is president of the computer security company CrowdStrike. He says there’s “little doubt” the Chinese government has an aggressive electronic espionage program targeting the US government and the commercial sector. “There’s been successful exfiltration of data from government agencies (by the Chinese) up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.” (NBC News, 6/6/2013)

August 12, 2016: Whoever hacked DNC and other Democrat-related emails in the last year may have also targeted Republicans.

The Daily Beast reports that cybersecurity experts believe the hacker or hackers who stole emails from the DNC (Democratic National Committee) are behind a website known as DCLeaks. The site went public in June 2016 to little media attention. But the site contains emails from hundreds of Republican and Democratic US politicans, including staffers to Republican Senators John McCain and Linsey Graham, plus staffers to former Republican Repesentative Michelle Bachmann.  An unnamed “an individual close to the investigation of the Democratic Party hacks” says the evidence is growing that both parties have been targeted. “Everyone is sweating this right now. This isn’t just limited to Democrats.”

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Senators John McCain (left) and Linsey Graham (right) (Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

The cybersecurity company ThreatConnect has been investigating the recent hacks of US political targets, and they call DCLeaks a “Russian-backed influence outlet.” In particular, they have linked it to Fancy Bear (a.k.a. APT 28), a hacking group also accused of hacking the DNC, an believed by many to be working for the Russian government. “DCLeaks’ registration and hosting information aligns with other Fancy Bear activities and known tactics, techniques, and procedures.” They also claim that the hacker or hacking group known as Guccifer 2.0, who claims to be behind the hacking of the DNC emails that WikiLeaks publicly posted in July 2016, is linked to DCLeaks.
The Daily Beast reports that “researchers, at ThreatConnect and elsewhere, also now believe that Guccifer 2.0 was WikiLeaks’ source and that the group is acting as a front for the Russian government.” (The Daily Beast, 8/12/2016)