Yet another purported example of Russia-linked hackers infiltrating the email accounts of powerful government officials has been conclusively debunked.
The Guardian is reporting that a June incident where the accounts of dozens of UK ministers of parliament were infiltrated by shadowy hackers has been traced back to Iran. The UK intelligence community’s initial conclusion – that the attacks originated in Russia – has been refuted by an as-yet-unpublished report on the incident compiled by British intelligence.
Indeed, the intelligence community’s initial assumption appears to be another example of investigators jumping to a conclusion before a thorough analysis of the evidence has been completed. In a way, it echoes the response by several US states last month to the revelation that hackers had attempted to compromise their voting systems. Some states, including California and Wisconsin, apparently assumed the attacks were linked to Russia, until DHS informed them that it had found no evidence to support this conclusion.
The June 23 cyberattack affected the accounts of dozens of MPs, including Prime Minister Theresa May and several senior other senior ministers. The network that was compromised is used by every MP for interactions with constituents, the Guardian reported.
Initially, UK intelligence determined that hackers had attempted to gain access to accounts protected by weak passwords – despite repeated warnings to choose strong, hard-to-crack passwords.
An anonymous “security source” cited by the Guardian said the hackers used unsophisticated “brute force” attacks where the hackers use specifically designed programs to test out hundreds of thousands of different passwords combinations. “It was a brute-force attack. It appears to have been state-sponsored. The nature of cyber-attacks means it is notoriously difficult to attribute an incident to a specific actor.”
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen added that the attack “absolutely” could leave some people open to blackmail. “Constituents want to know the information they send to us is completely secure,” he said.
Initially, suspicion had fallen upon foreign governments such as Russia and North Korea, both of which have been accused of orchestrating previous hacking attempts in the UK.
Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, said the incident reinforced the notion that MPs need to take extra precaution when securing their data.
“We know that our public services are attacked, so it is not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails,” he said. “And it’s a warning to everybody, whether they are in parliament or elsewhere, that they need to do everything possible to maintain their own cybersecurity.”
Given the furor that erupted after DHS ordered US government agencies to immediately remove security software designed by Russia-based firm Kaspersky Labs, the revelation about Iran’s involvement in the UK hacks should give intelligence agencies – not to mention lawmakers who seemingly blame Russia for every incidence of cyber meddling uncovered by US intelligence – pause. After the WSJ reported that Kaspersky’s software was essentially being leveraged by the Russian government to create an international spy network, German intelligence announced that they had found no evidence to support this claim.
And while many have blamed Russia-linked hackers for last year’s hack of DNC emails, including emails sent by Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is reportedly offering President Donald Trump conclusive evidence that he says would debunk this claim.
However, Chief of Staff John Kelly has rebutted one Congressman’s attempts to bring the deal to President Trump. But as the multiple investigations into whether Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to sway the election in the president’s favor have apparently hit a wall, Assange’s evidence might be the key to silencing these suspicions, which have cast an unsubstantiated pall of illegitimacy over Trump’s first term in office.