Senate Intel panel releases updated election security findings, recommendations

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released complete election security findings and recommendations that fleshed out Russia’s motives behind its alleged digital interference and added more suggestions for bolstering defenses.

Two months after releasing a draft, leaders of the panel finalized their report that found Russia was determined to undermine voter confidence in the 2016 election, but saw no evidence that vote tallies or voter registration information was altered.

The committee recommends that states expand so-called Albert sensors, an offshoot of the DHS EINSTEIN program to monitor threats aimed at federal agencies.

The report also recommends that state and local election administrators consider creating education programs to make sure voters check on their registration in advance of an election.

"We are working tirelessly to give Americans a complete accounting of what happened in 2016 and to prevent any future interference with our democratic process,” Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said.

Continue reading “Senate Intel panel releases updated election security findings, recommendations”

U.S., U.K.: Russia launching global cyberattacks aimed at internet traffic controls

The United States and United Kingdom Monday issued a joint alert blaming Russia for mounting global cyberattacks on devices and networks that control internet traffic, potentially affecting millions of machines.

The attacks on "network infrastructure devices" — routers, switches and firewalls — were meant to gain access to government and critical infrastructure targets.

"It is a tremendous weapon in the hands of an adversary," said Rob Joyce, White House cybersecurity coordinator, in a call with the media.

U.S. and U.K. officials briefing reporters said the attacks could be used for espionage or intellectual property theft or for laying the groundwork for destructive attacks should tensions escalate. But they said they had no insight into the scope of how successful the attacks have been.

"Once you own the router, you own the traffic that’s traversing the router," said Jeanette Manfra, the Homeland Security Department’s assistant secretary for cybersecurity and Continue reading “U.S., U.K.: Russia launching global cyberattacks aimed at internet traffic controls”

Senate Russia probe makes bipartisan pitch on election security

Leaders of both parties on Tuesday made a high-profile push to keep hackers and online trolls from skewing American democracy, offering the first major set of bipartisan suggestions to bolster the digital defenses protecting the country’s electoral systems.

The recommendations — the first set of findings from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s yearlong investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling and whether the Kremlin colluded with the Trump campaign on its efforts — include establishing a voluntary state election security grant program, but does not suggest a specific dollar figure, a key sticking point for Democrats, who want Congress to allocates millions of dollars to help cash-strapped states upgrade outdated voting technology.

Tuesday’s document does not include any judgment on whether Trump’s team coordinated with Moscow on its disinformation campaign. Panel leaders have said they are still looking into that subject and will issue those findings at a later date.

In the Continue reading “Senate Russia probe makes bipartisan pitch on election security”

DHS, FBI: Russian hackers targeted U.S. energy grid

The Trump administration on Thursday accused Russian government hackers of carrying out a deliberate, ongoing operation to penetrate vital U.S. industries, including the energy grid — a major ratcheting up of tensions between the two countries over cybersecurity.

It says the hackers penetrated the targeted companies to a surprising degree, including copying information that could be used to gain access to the computer systems that control power plants.

"Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors … targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors," according to a joint alert issued by the Homeland Security Department and the FBI.

Shortly afterward, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that he’s "not confident" the federal government has an adequate strategy in place to address the "hundreds of thousands" of cybersecurity attacks directed Continue reading “DHS, FBI: Russian hackers targeted U.S. energy grid”

Key takeaways from the Russia indictment

The Russian scheme to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a plot years in the making — an expensive effort that cost millions of dollars and employed as many as hundreds of people, the federal indictment unsealed Friday alleges.

The document lays out a breathtaking influence operation that sent Russian operatives to the U.S., sought American activists’ advice about targeting swing states, staged rallies on U.S. soil and wielded the United States’ homegrown social media platforms to worsen the country’s racial, religious and political divides.

And while the indictment doesn’t explicitly name Vladimir Putin as one of the conspirators, it meshes with U.S. intelligence agencies’ January 2017 conclusion that the Russian leader had “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” an effort that eventually “developed a clear preference” for the election of Donald Trump. The operators even made Continue reading “Key takeaways from the Russia indictment”

The latest 2018 election-hacking threat: A 9-month wait for government help

States rushing to guard their 2018 elections against hackers may be on a waiting list for up to nine months for the Department of Homeland Security’s most exhaustive security screening, according to government officials familiar with the situation.

That means some states might not get the service until weeks before the November midterms and may remain unaware of flaws that could allow homegrown cyber vandals or foreign intelligence agencies to target voter registration databases and election offices’ computer networks, the officials said. Russian hackers targeted election systems in at least 21 states in 2016, according to DHS.

The scanning, known as a “risk and vulnerability assessment,” is the crème de la crème of security exams: DHS personnel come in person to do an intensive, multiweek probing of the entire system required to run an election. But department officials acknowledge that it’s of limited use if it doesn’t come soon enough Continue reading “The latest 2018 election-hacking threat: A 9-month wait for government help”

Rosenstein to testify a day before Comey on Capitol Hill

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify to a Senate panel next week one day before James Comey does, setting up dramatic back-to-back Intelligence Committee hearings sure to delve into the firing of the former FBI director.

Rosenstein is set to appear at a public hearing on Wednesday alongside other top intelligence officials to discuss the renewal of expiring surveillance powers. Comey is due to testify Thursday.

It will be Rosenstein’s first appearance on Capitol Hill since he briefed lawmakers in mid-May about Comey’s unexpected removal and the role his memo played in President Donald Trump justifying the controversial firing of the bureau chief.

The White House initially cited Rosenstein’s memo — which claimed Comey’s poor leadership had caused the public to lose faith in the FBI — as the reason for the director’s firing. But Trump later said he had already made up his mind to dismiss Comey before Continue reading “Rosenstein to testify a day before Comey on Capitol Hill”

Trump confronts global cyber crisis with a staff marked by vacancies

The global malware attack that has crippled hospitals, businesses and foreign government computers is confronting a Trump administration that still hasn’t filled many of the top cybersecurity slots that are critical for handling this kind of crisis.

The dozens of vacant roles with major cyber responsibilities — not all of which are on the front lines in a crisis — include a permanent director for the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity wing, the government’s first-responder for many digital emergencies. The raft of openings creates a risk that the government will be slow to respond to trouble, and that federal agencies and private companies will have trouble finding help when they need it, cybersecurity experts and former officials say.

In an emergency, “they’re the folks you turn to and say, ‘go do this,’” said Chris Cummiskey, a former acting undersecretary and deputy undersecretary at DHS.

“They’ve been able to hold the Continue reading “Trump confronts global cyber crisis with a staff marked by vacancies”

Congress to get White House-backed bipartisan bill to upgrade aging federal networks

A bipartisan group of lawmakers will reintroduce major legislation on Friday to overhaul the federal government’s aging computer systems, but with a significantly scaled back dollar figure to keep it from stalling like it did at the end of last year, according to the bill’s sponsor.

The bill is a first step, and the biggest step in this Congress, toward slashing wasteful federal information technology spending that costs taxpayers an estimated $80 annually and that leaves decrepit systems vulnerable to hackers.

Such outsized expenses — 80 percent of which are simply for maintenance — have been a target of both Republicans and Democrats in recent years.

Vitally, the legislation comes with a White House stamp of approval, lead sponsor Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) told POLITICO. That’s the result of the bill’s backers working with both the Office of Management and Budget and senior Donald Trump adviser Jared Kushner’s Office of Continue reading “Congress to get White House-backed bipartisan bill to upgrade aging federal networks”

Senate Dems want Sessions to recuse himself as AG on Russian hacking investigation

Senate Judiciary Democrats today asked attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions to pledge that he won’t interfere in an investigation of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, and will recuse himself if he is confirmed to the post.

The Democrats wrote in a letter to the nominee that the commitments are made more necessary by recent unconfirmed reports that Russia has compromising information on President-elect Donald Trump, and that the Trump camp maintained communication with Moscow during the election season.

"At a minimum, these allegations must be fully investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, especially in light of the recent assessment by the intelligence community that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a campaign to influence the outcome of our presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor," the panel’s Democrats wrote.

Sessions didn’t directly answer questions at his nomination hearings about whether he would shut down Continue reading “Senate Dems want Sessions to recuse himself as AG on Russian hacking investigation”

Top Intel Dem: Spy agency briefing on Russia hacks ‘contentious,’ ‘heated’

The top House Intelligence Committee Democrat on Friday said a spy agency briefing on the Hill about Russian election-season hacking was "contentious" and "at times, heated."

But despite the acrimonious exchanges, added California Rep. Adam Schiff, "it was helpful."

Schiff wouldn’t comment on the contents of the classified briefing, but it comes as Democrats are increasingly pressuring FBI Director James Comey to acknowledge any investigations into connections between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump.

The briefing, Schiff said, "was very necessary."

"There was strong member participation and attendance from both sides of the aisle," he added.

Democrats are frustrated with Comey over his willingness before the election to comment on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but his reluctance to discuss any probe into ties between Trump’s team and Moscow.

This week, every House Judiciary Committee Democrat signed on to a letter to Comey urging Continue reading “Top Intel Dem: Spy agency briefing on Russia hacks ‘contentious,’ ‘heated’”

DHS labels elections as ‘critical infrastructure’

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday declared the electoral system as "critical infrastructure," the latest in a series of eleventh-hour responses to alleged Russian election-season hacks.

The designation — which will put election equipment in the same category as the power grid or financial sector — came the same day that intelligence agencies released an unclassified report that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hacking campaign against Democratic organizations and officials that eventually aimed to help elect Donald Trump. The report said Russian spies had accessed elements of state and local election boards as part of their digital meddling.

Labeling election equipment as part of the country’s "critical infrastructure" has faced strong opposition from some state election officials. But DHS head Jeh Johnson insisted it would make protecting polling places, election machines, voter databases and other information technology a formal cybersecurity priority for the department.

"It is important Continue reading “DHS labels elections as ‘critical infrastructure’”

Top spy office: Intel agencies will not brief Electoral College members on alleged Russian interference

Spy agencies will not brief members of the Electoral College on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race before the Dec. 19 vote, despite pleas from 70 electors, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence indicated today.

"Recently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has received requests from Members of Congress, several electors of the Electoral College and the general public for additional information on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election," the office said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has ordered a "deep dive" on that alleged Russian interference that will be completed before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

"Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the intelligence community stands ready to brief Congress and will make those findings available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods," the DNI statement reads.

Although the statement didn’t directly say a Continue reading “Top spy office: Intel agencies will not brief Electoral College members on alleged Russian interference”

Top spy office: Intel agencies will not brief Electoral College members on alleged Russian interference

Spy agencies will not brief members of the Electoral College on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race before the Dec. 19 vote, despite pleas from 70 electors, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence indicated today.

"Recently, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has received requests from Members of Congress, several electors of the Electoral College and the general public for additional information on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election," the office said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has ordered a "deep dive" on that alleged Russian interference that will be completed before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

"Once the review is complete in the coming weeks, the intelligence community stands ready to brief Congress and will make those findings available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods," the DNI statement reads.

Although the statement didn’t directly say a Continue reading “Top spy office: Intel agencies will not brief Electoral College members on alleged Russian interference”

FBI backs CIA findings that Russia tried to help Trump win election

FBI Director James Comey now concurs in a CIA assessment that Russian hackers meddled in the U.S. presidential election to sway the race toward President-elect Donald Trump, a U.S. official confirmed to POLITICO.

In a memo first reported by The Washington Post, CIA Director John Brennan told employees that the FBI, CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are in harmony about Moscow’s motives.

The message comes on the heels of a Post report last week that the FBI differed with the CIA o Russia’s motivation in launching a series of cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and other political operatives, exposing reams of internal documents and embarrassing emails.

Reportedly, the CIA expressed certainty that Russia was trying to use the hacks to get Trump elected, while the FBI believed the evidence was “fuzzy” and “ambiguous.”

Brennan’s note explained Continue reading “FBI backs CIA findings that Russia tried to help Trump win election”

Yahoo discloses massive data breach

Democrats launch lame-duck campaign to combat Russia’s digital meddling

In Congress’s final days of 2016, top House Democrats are launching a campaign to address Russia’s alleged digital meddling in the U.S. election.

Party leaders are pressing the Obama administration for a briefing on the matter, as two Democrats are set to introduce legislation on Wednesday.

The bill will come from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who said their bill is intended "to take action on evidence of foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. elections."

Swalwell, the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel’s CIA Subcommittee, and Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, will reveal their legislation at an afternoon press conference Wednesday. There were no further immediate details on the bill.

And in a letter sent on Tuesday, a group of top Democrats — led by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — urged the Obama administration to brief Congress Continue reading “Democrats launch lame-duck campaign to combat Russia’s digital meddling”

After election, DHS will work with voting machine vendors on cybersecurity

After next week, the Homeland Security Department plans to start working with election machine vendors to make sure they’re defending against cyberattacks, a DHS official told reporters today.

The idea is to "make sure they have cybersecurity built into their systems," but also to offer them the department’s information sharing services, "so they’re seeing the same indicators we are," the official said.

"We understand a lot of states will be modernizing their voting machines over the next several years, and we want to make sure that as they modernize their machines, they do it in a way that is secure," an official said.

The department doesn’t want to send the signal about election security that "this is not a problem we’re looking at for Nov. 8, and then we’re done," the official said. "We’re trying to figure out how to make this a long-term program."

During this election cycle, Continue reading “After election, DHS will work with voting machine vendors on cybersecurity”

Dems request FBI investigation of Trump campaign links to hacks

Top Democrats on four House committees today asked the FBI to investigate connections between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the alleged Russian hacks of Democratic organizations and figures, citing new comments from a Trump confidant.

"Troubling new evidence appears to show that the Trump campaign not only was aware of cyber attacks against Secretary [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign chairman, but was openly bragging about it as far back as August," said Reps. Elijah Cummings from Government Affairs, John Conyers from Judiciary, Eliot Engel from Foreign Affairs and Bennie Thompson from Homeland Security.

"For months, we have been asking the FBI to examine links between the Trump campaign and illegal Russian efforts to affect our election, including interviewing Trump advisor Roger Stone," they said. "In light of this new evidence — and these exceptional circumstances — we call on the FBI to fully investigate and explain to the American people what steps Continue reading “Dems request FBI investigation of Trump campaign links to hacks”

Obama administration accuses Russian government of election-year hacking