When Russian hackers targeted the staff of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., they took aim at maybe the most vulnerable sector of U.S. elections: campaigns.
McCaskill’s Senate staff received fake emails, as first reported by The Daily Beast, in an apparent attempt by Russia’s GRU intelligence agency to gain access to passwords. McCaskill released a statement confirming the attack but said there is no indication the attack was successful.
“Russia continues to engage in cyber warfare against our democracy. I will continue to speak out and press to hold them accountable,” McCaskill said. “I will not be intimidated. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully.”
The Missouri Democrat is running for re-election in November, in a state President Trump won by almost 20 percentage points; she is widely considered among the most vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in the Senate this year.
Although the attack on her staff is the first known instance of a Russian attempt at the kind of cyber-intrusion used on the Clinton campaign with great success in 2016, there is reason to believe it won’t be the last.
Tom Burt, Microsoft’s vice president of consumer security and trust, said last week that three candidates standing for election in the 2018 midterms were the target of phishing attempts that Microsoft detected. The Daily Beast concluded based on other evidence that McCaskill was among those three. It remains unclear who the others were.
“They were all people who because of their positions, might have been interesting people from an espionage standpoint, as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Burt said.
Eric Rosenbach, who served as the chief of staff for the Department of Defense from 2015 to 2017 and also previously oversaw the Pentagon’s cyberactivities, said based on his experience in national security, there’s no reason to believe those will be or have been the only campaign hack attempts.
Miles Parks is a reporter and producer on NPR’s Washington Desk. He covers election interference and voting infrastructure and reports on breaking news.