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Monday, 14 August 2017 11:17

In Washington, it is an article of faith that Russia hacked the DNC


Security companies in the US tend to see a Russian hand in everything these days. The latest firm to come up with a Russian bogeyman is FireEye, which issued a report last week, claiming with "moderate confidence" that a campaign against the hospitality sector was being run by APT28, a group that FireEye claims is sponsored by the Russian Government.

Such claims are nothing new. APT28, which is also known as Iron Twilight, Pawn Storm, Sofacy, Tsar Team, Strontium and Fancy Bear, was named as also being behind the hacking of the Democrat National Committee last year. 

The initial claims were advanced by CrowdStrike, the company handling security for the DNC, and pushed by Dell Secureworks and Trend Micro. However, when both Secureworks and Trend Micro were asked why CrowdStrike refused the FBI access to the DNC servers, the conversation went silent.

As journalist Daniel Lazaré wrote: "Dmitri Alperovich, the chief technical officer of CrowdStrike, is a Russian émigré with a pronounced anti-Putin tilt. He is also an associate of a virulently anti-Russian outfit known as the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank funded by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, the Ukrainian World Congress, the US State Department and a variety of other individuals and groups that have an interest in isolating or discrediting Russia".

And now comes FireEye. The company itself was in the news when it was reported that its own servers had been breached (Twitter thread). It denied this claim, but had to admit that the attacker had released three corporate documents containing details about one FireEye staffer. These, it claimed, came from an attack on a third party.

faith big

Exactly how much credibility a security company has, after it has to hose down claims that it has been infiltrated, is open to question. But this did not deter FireEye from making claims about Russians targeting others on 11 August.

The attackers, whether they were Russian, American or from Trinidad and Tobago, used the same leaked NSA exploit, ETERNALBLUE, used in WannaCry, to craft a means of getting the GAMEFISH malware installed in the hotels they targeted. The hotels in question were in Europe and the Middle East.

Stressing the Russian angle ensured that the story got good coverage in the American media. Today, the assault on Australian media has begun.

In the US, where it is now more or less an article of faith that Russians hacked the DNC, such claims get a lot of mileage.

This, nowithstanding the fact that a number of former NSA experts say that there was no hack at the DNC, but a leak – an inside job by someone with access to the DNC systems.

Of course, as soon as this was publicised, a couple of ex-NSA employees who are loyal to the organisation came out with their own theory of why an external actor had to be the responsible one.

But few are willing to speak the central truth – there is no evidence to definitely tie the DNC hack to the Russians. And no definite proof to tie Russia to the hotel hacks either. But then, who cares about facts when you have a good story?

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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