The Democratic National Committee revealed June 14 that it was the victim of a data breach, allegedly perpetrated by hackers from Russia looking for information on Donald Trump, presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
The DNC called security firm CrowdStrike after suspecting it was the victim of a breach. CrowdStrike’s research revealed that one of the Russian hacker groups infiltrated the DNC network as far back as the summer of 2015, while a second group breached the DNC network separately in April 2016.
“The security of our system is critical to our operation and to the confidence of the campaigns and state parties we work with,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), DNC chairwoman, said in a statement first published in The Washington Post. “When we discovered the intrusion, we treated this like the serious incident it is and reached out to CrowdStrike immediately. Our team moved as quickly as possible to kick out the intruders and secure our network.”
Just yesterday, Donald Trump announced that he was revoking the press credentials for The Washington Post from his campaign events.
As part of its investigation, CrowdStrike found that two different hacker groups were actively exploiting the DNC networks. CrowdStrike is calling one of them CozyBear, and FireEye referred to it as APT29. CrowdStrike has attributed multiple U.S. government attacks to CozyBear, including breaches in the White House in October 2014 and the State Department in November 2014.
In March 2015, after media reports identified Russia as the source of the White House attack, Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO and co-founder of CrowdStrike, told eWEEK that his firm had seen “a dramatic rise in cyber-intrusion activity from the Russian government since the sanctions regime was put in place against them [in 2014].”
The second hacker group that was on the DNC network is identified by CrowdStrike as FancyBear and also known as APT28. In April 2015, FireEye reported that APT28 made use of multiple zero-day exploits in targeted attacks, allegedly backed by the Russian government.
According to CrowdStrike, the CozyBear attackers breached the DNC at some point in the summer of 2015, while FancyBear infiltrated the DNC in April of this year.
“We observed the two Russian espionage groups compromise the same systems and engage separately in the theft of identical credentials,” Alperovitch wrote in a blog post. “While you would virtually never see Western intelligence agencies going after the same target without de-confliction for fear of compromising each other’s operations, in Russia this is not an uncommon scenario.”
CozyBear made use of a Windows PowerShell backdoor that enabled the attackers to automatically launch malicious code on a specific schedule. PowerShell is a Windows task automation and configuration management framework.
CrowdStrike reported that FancyBear was using the X-Agent malware to enable remote command execution and keylogging. Going a step further, CrowdStrike’s analysis revealed that FancyBear attackers routinely cleared the event logs on the DNC servers to cover their tracks and remain undetected.
“The 2016 presidential election has the world’s attention, and leaders of other states are anxiously watching and planning for possible outcomes,” Alperovitch stated. “Attacks against electoral candidates and the parties they represent are likely to continue up until the election in November.”
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.