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Russian Agents Unsuccessfully Tried To Hack Sen. Claire McCaskill's Campaign


Russian hackers may have tried a new target, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. According to The Daily Beast, Russian intelligence agents tried to hack McCaskill's re-election campaign ahead of the midterms. The senator said in a statement that the cyberattack wasn't successful. Andrew Desiderio has more on this story. He's the congressional reporter for The Daily Beast. Welcome to the program.

ANDREW DESIDERIO: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So you're essentially reporting that the same Russian intelligence agency that was behind the 2016 cyberattacks made another attempt heading into the 2018 midterms, targeting, as we said, Senator McCaskill. First of all, how were you able to determine it was the same?

DESIDERIO: Well, so we did a forensic analysis at The Daily Beast of the data that we had captured independently ourselves, and we were able to actually trace it directly back to the Russian GRU, which is the main intelligence directorate in Russia. It's the same agency, as you mentioned, that's accused of carrying out similar cyberattacks against Democratic Party infrastructure in 2016. And this is the first concrete evidence of Russian interference in the 2018 midterm election.

CORNISH: What was the technique they used to try and hack this campaign? And we should say that the senator's office says this attempt was unsuccessful.

DESIDERIO: Right, and that's what we reported, too. We reported that there was no evidence suggesting that the attempt was successful. But what they did was they launched a number of what are called phishing operations whereby a bunch of staffers in the office were sent a suspicious email from Microsoft making it look like it was real saying, oh, you need to change your password. But it was actually a fake link, and those who clicked on it were subject to sort of an infiltration by the Russian intelligence services, especially if they ended up entering their password.

CORNISH: As you said, the target was through the Microsoft Exchange email system, and I understand Microsoft has been more aggressive about trying to crack down on this kind of hacking. How have they been involved here?

DESIDERIO: Well, so their - one of their top executives spoke at the Aspen Security Forum and was talking about how they had shut down a number of attempts. And that's sort of what tipped us off to this idea that these operations might have been underway somehow. And we wanted to dig into it that way and sort of trace in reverse how these could have happened and whom they could have affected. And as we saw, it affected the - one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators currently serving who's facing a really tough re-election battle in a state that Donald Trump won by almost 20 points.

CORNISH: This comes as the president has been tweeting about the issue of hacking, right? And I understand there was supposed to be kind of a meeting about cyberattacks and security that the White House is going to be involved in. Tell us more about that.

DESIDERIO: So the White House tomorrow is convening a meeting of the National Security Council to focus on election security, cyberattacks, things like that. You also mentioned the president's been talking about it. Just a couple of days ago, he tweeted saying that he was worried about Russian cyberattacks impacting the 2018 election, but he said that he suspected that they would be aimed at helping Democrats because in his view, his administration was being so tough on Russia that they wanted to help the opposition party, not Donald Trump's party in other words.

So, you know, this - again, this comes just two days after the president tweeted that. And we also know that back last August, the president traveled to Missouri for a tax reform event, and he very explicitly said, vote her out of office, referring to Claire McCaskill. And we also know that based on our data, the hacking operation of her office began around that same time.

CORNISH: Andrew Desiderio is congressional reporter for The Daily Beast. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DESIDERIO: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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