From Russia With Love: What the DNC Hack Tells US
August 8, 2016 (Cy-Pher) — As the US presidential race kicks into high gear, there are allegations that hackers acting on behalf of Russian intelligence broke into the Democratic National Committee (the “DNC”), the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic fundraising committee networks, stole large volumes of data and publicly released streams of embarrassing emails in an effort to influence the presidential race. The fallout from the email leak immediately claimed a high-profile casualty in the form of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation. Many analysts have been asking whether there were any warning signs and if they were ignored by the DNC leadership. The unfortunate answer is yes to both of those questions.
According to media reports, the DNC was warned last fall that its computer network was susceptible to potential cyber-attacks. While it retained external security experts who provided dozens of recommendation, no decisive remedial action was taken to prevent the breach. Instead, the hackers were able to get into the networks and stay there for several months, stealing large quantities data. When the breach was ultimately discovered in April, the damage was already done: 20,000 embarrassing emails were dumped online – this in the context of a Democratic Party trying to unite itself after an acrimonious primary battle and a unique challenger from the Republican Party.
The review conducted by the security experts revealed problems ranging from an out-of-date firewall to a lack of advanced malware detection technology on individual computers. It also recommended taking special steps to protect any financial information related to donors and internal communications including e-mails. The unfortunate part is that these issues could have been effectively resolved by implementing relatively simple measures where the cost, in the context of billion-dollar campaigns, would have been minimal. The fact is that cybersecurity was not a “top of mind” issue for the DNC leadership. While it took some steps when law enforcement informed the DNC that it was a potential target, it did not follow-up by implementing simple and relatively straightforward remedial measure.
While this happened in the context of a competitive political campaign, the same could have happened to a large Fortune 100 corporation. Failure by management to take cyber threat warnings seriously or acting in a half-hearted manner can result in hackers damaging the corporate brand, destroying shareholder value, costly litigation, senior management resignation, etc. The fact is that in an increasingly connected and digitized world, all organizations are potential cyber targets – their only defence is constant cyber vigilance.