Russian hackers broke into the computer system of the Democratic National Committee and stole a trove of opposition research on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Russian hackers had access to the DNC networks for a year, the Post confirmed, until this past weekend when the committee's computer system underwent a massive cleanup and the breach was stopped. Before they were caught, the hackers were able to monitor all confidential emails and correspondence between DNC employees, scooping up information on various Democratic campaigns, including presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Personal or financial information on Democratic donors was not accessed, the Post pointed out.
"The security of our system is critical to our operation and to the confidence of the campaigns and state parties we work with," said DNC chairwoman and Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement. "When we discovered the intrusion, we treated this like the serious incident it is and reached out to [cybersecurity firm] CrowdStrike immediately. Our team moved as quickly as possible to kick out the intruders and secure our network."
Compared to other American politicians, Trump has probably been the biggest fan of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Experts on cyber warfare say, therefore, that the breach was probably not intended to gather information on how to bring Trump down, but rather to gather information on the person who could very well be the next American president.
"Trump's foreign investments, for example, would be relevant to understanding how he would deal with countries where he has those investments," Robert Deitz, former senior councillor to the CIA director and a former general counsel at the National Security Agency, told the Post, explaining why the hackers targeted the DNC.
"They may provide tips for understanding his style of negotiating," Deitz added. "In short, this sort of intelligence could be used by Russia, for example, to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism."
This isn't the first time Russian hackers have intruded on American political institutions. Last year, cyberspies broke into the State Department computer system, which was called the "worst ever" invasion into a federal database. The White House email system and the Pentagon cyber network were also compromised last year, which US officials blamed on Russian hackers.