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It’s been more than a year since the Republican party’s Donald Trump won the U.S Presidential elections against Democrat Hillary Clinton. However, Robert Mueller recently indicted 12 Russian military officers who meddled with the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. These had hacked into the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Clinton campaign.

Mueller evoked that the Russians did it using Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks following which Twitter decided to suspend both the accounts on its platform.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Twitter found the handles of both Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks dormant for more than a year and a half. It also verified the accounts being loaded with disseminated emails which were stolen from both Clinton’s camp and the Democratic Party’s organization. Subsequently, it has suspended both accounts.

Guccifer 2.0 is an online persona created by the conspirators and was falsely claimed to be a Romanian hacker to avoid evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. They are also associated with the leaks of documents from the Democratic National Committee(DNC) through Wikileaks.

DCLeaks, with the website, “dcleaks.com” published the stolen data. The DCLeaks site is known to be a front for Russian cyberespionage group Fancy Bear.

Mueller, in his indictment, stated that both Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks have ties with the GRU (Russian military intelligence unit called the Main Intelligence Directorate) hackers.

How hackers social engineered their way into the Clinton Campaign?

The attackers or hackers have been said to use the hacking technique known as Spear phishing and the malware used in the process is the X-agent. It is a tool that can collect documents, keystrokes and other information from computers and smartphones through encrypted channels back to servers owned by hackers.

As per Mueller’s indictment report, the conspirator created an email account on the name of a known member of the Clinton Campaign. This email id had one letter deviation and looked almost like the original one. Spear Phishing emails were sent across work accounts of more than thirty different Clinton Campaign employees using this fake account. The embedded link within these spear fished emails directed the recipient to a document titled ‘hillary-clinton-favorable-rating.xlsx.’. However, in reality, the recipients were being directed to a GRU-created website. X-agent uses an encrypted “tunneling protocol” tool known as X-Tunnel, that connected to known GRU-associated servers.

Using the malware, X-agent, the GRU agents had targeted more than 300 individuals within the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, by March 2016.  At the same time, hackers stole nearly 50,000 emails from the Clinton campaign, and by June 2016 they had gained a control over 33 DNC computers and infected them with the malware.

The indictment further explains that although the attackers ensured to hide their tracks by erasing the activity logs, the Linux-based version of X-agent programmed with the GRU_registered domain “linuxkrnl.net” were discovered in these networks.

Was the Trump campaign impervious to such an attack?

Roger Stone, Former Trump campaign adviser was said to be in contact with Guccifer 2.0 during the presidential campaign.

As per Mueller ’s indictment, Guccifer 2.0 sent Stone this message, “Please tell me if i can help u anyhow…it would be a great pleasure for me…What do u think about the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.”. “Pretty standard” was the reply given to Guccifer 2.0. However, Stone said that his conversations with the person behind the account were “innocuous.”

Stone further added, “This exchange is entirely public and provides no evidence of collaboration or collusion with Guccifer 2.0 or anyone else in the alleged hacking of the DNC emails.”

Stone also stated that he never discussed such innocuous communication with Trump or his presidential campaign.

Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, U.S  had indicated about this Russian attack since he was a part of Kremlin’s multifaceted approach to boost Trump’s 2016 campaign and on the other hand depreciating Clinton’s campaign.

Twitter stated that both the accounts have been suspended for being connected to a network of accounts previously suspended for operating in violation of their rules. However, Hillary Clinton’s supporters expressed their anger by stating that Twitter’s responsiveness to stimuli was too slow and too little.

With the midterm elections arriving soon in some months, one question on everyone’s mind is: how are the intelligence department and the department of justice going to ensure the elections are fair and secure? There are high chances of such attacks recurring. On being asked a similar question at a cybersecurity conference, Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Secretary responded, “Today I can say with confidence that we know whom to contact in every state to share threat information,” Nielsen said. “That ability did not exist in 2016.”

Following is Rod Rosenstein’s interview with PBS NewsHour.

 

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