Over the past year, FBI agents have been investigating a series of cyberattacks against a Democratic rival of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), one of the most ardent supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Republican Party.
The cyberattacks, first reported by Rolling Stone, were targeted against Dr. Hans Keirstead, who fell just 125 votes short of advancing out of the California Democratic primary in June. The attacks began with spear-phishing attempt — a deceitful way of getting the recipient to hand over a password — which was the same method used against John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Then, in December, the attacks became more sophisticated and sustained. Hackers reportedly tried to brute force their way into Keirstead’s campaign website, trying different username-password combinations more than 130,000 times over one month. In January, the campaign’s Twitter page was attacked by unknown assailants, attempting to get control of it. That same month, the website for Keirstead’s company was briefly hacked
While none of the attacks were successful, they fit into a worrying pattern in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. “It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique,” campaign manager Quinn-Quesada told Rolling Stone. “[They] have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018.”
In July, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) admitted that there was an attempt in 2017 to hack her Senate computer network via a phishing attack, first reported by the Daily Beast. Microsoft also reported in July that Russian operatives had attempted to hack the online accounts of three staffers working on congressional campaigns. And last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said Russian operatives had already penetrated county-level election systems in Florida.
There is no way of knowing where the latest attack on Rohrabacher’s rival originated from, but the fact that they used the same techniques that Russian operatives used to access Podesta’s emails is bound to raise suspicion. U.S. intelligence has also warned that the U.S. will face continued cyber-attacks, including ones aimed to sow division on social media, as well as attacks that could potentially target key infrastructure.