Thorner & Ingold: Media Played Like a “Phish” Over Russian Hacking Incident

January 5, 2017

 

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By Nancy Thorner & Ed Ingold – 

The press is being played like a “phish” by President Obama over the Russian hacking incident. First of all, it is a distraction from the real damage which Democrats inflicted on themselves by using dirty tactics against Hillary’s opponents and disrespecting many of the groups on which they depend for support. If you can’t defend the message, attack the messenger. Secondly, it is not an attack on democracy or the election process, it was an attack on Democrats. If there was an effect on the election, it was the content of these emails, not the fact that they were hacked.

Based on what we know so far, the level of involvement by Russian intelligence is also being exaggerated. This was not an high level, sophisticated attack like the one executed by the U.S. and Israel on Iran’s nuclear separation industry.  Democrat e-mails were hacked by a low level attack called “spear phishing.”

“Phishing” is a term used when a malicious email is delivered asking the receiver to open a document or website which contains malware or asks for personal information. Many times they bear the name of an acquaintance, whose email has been hacked or merely guessed. These are often marked by poor grammar or misspelled words or an unusual topic.

Spear phishing is more sophisticated, but still low level. The email and subsequent websites are disguised to look official, complete with logos and layout like the real site. However they are bogus, and any information the user provides is directed to a spurious server which collects and uses or sells the collected personal information. Usually some sort of software will be planted on the user’s computer that will continue to collect and transmit information to the criminal. A typical ruse is “Your account has been hacked, and will be locked pending your response. Please re-enter your password and personal information.”

Hillary’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, fell victim to a spear phishing attack, which was spread to other members of his contact list. These attacks preceded the November presidential election, specifically after Obama allegedly warned Putin to cease and desist.  AND MEMBERS OF THE DNC KEPT FALLING FOR THE RUSE!

This does not mean Russia had no involvement. In fact many criminal attacks of this sort originate in Russia or Eastern Europe. On the other hand, it does not mean the Russian government played an official role. We simply don’t know without additional facts.

Obama’s evidence supporting the role of Russia and Putin is vague in its analysis of alleged Russian government-sponsored hacking groups that are blamed for breaching several different parts of the Democratic Party during the 2016 elections.  The so-called FBI/DHS report issued on Thursday, December 29, 2016, meant for technology professionals, likewise contains self-contradictory statements.

Of note is that not one of the “17” security agencies (out of three or four) have come forward.  All of the information has come from Obama or staff working at his pleasure.  If true, a factual report would reveal sources and methods, which are more valuable than any information derived by their use.  Instead, the report was criticized by security experts who said it lacked depth and came too late.  Security experts using Twitter criticized the government report as too basic. Jonathan Zdziarski, a highly regarded security researcher, compared the joint action report to a child’s activity center. Tom Killalea, former vice-president of security at Amazon and a Capital One board member, wrote: “Russian attack on DNC similar to so many other attacks in past 15yrs. Big question: Why such poor incident response?”

Meanwhile, on the same day the FBI/DHS report was released (Thursday, December 29, 2016) Barack Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 elections in retaliation for Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential election.  These sanctions included the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US.   Putin’s reaction was to be the good guy for now. Rather than respond with similar sanctions against the US, Putin said Friday he would wait until Donald Trump becomes the US president next month before deciding his course of action

“While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Putin said in his statement. (The phrase “kitchen diplomacy” in Russian refers to “quarrelsome” behavior, according to The New York Times.)

With his statement, Putin indicated he plans to ignore Obama’s final diplomatic moves and focus on working with the Trump administration going forward. That puts the US response to the hacking attacks squarely in the hands of the president-elect, who has maintained that there’s no way to know that Russia orchestrated the hacks. Trump’s statements run counter to the US intelligence community’s publicly stated assessment that Russia was indeed behind the attacks.

Wisely Donald Trump is not biting but instead is keeping a low profile regarding the hacking incident.  Keeping silent is Trump’s best option. Trump wants to ‘move on’ but says he will meet with intelligence officials this week for an update. If Trump comes out in support of Obama’s allegations without justification, he will alienate Putin and the Russians and future diplomatic relations. If he denies it, Obama may spring corroborating information, playing Trump as a politically ignorant and dogmatic. 

The only way to prove Russian government involvement and/or intent is by intercepting other means of communication. Obama now faces a dilemma. If he provides proof certain, he will divulge national secrets. If he doesn’t provide this proof, and it is all politics, it will come out in subsequent Congressional investigations. With Trump silent, it is Obama twisting in the wind. On the other hand, John McCain and Lindsay Graham find the bait irresistible.  This is not surprising in the least for those who follow the erratic behavior of both McCain and Graham, who many times promote issues that are not in keeping with what is best for the Republican Party.

Popcorn anyone?

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