Senior officials in the Obama administration revealed last week that hackers originating from the Russian Federation gained access to a series of unclassified emails from top officials, including those of the President himself. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officials revealed the information while discussing an internal investigation conducted by the State Department. While the hacking did not compromise government servers housing classified communications, it reveals weaknesses in the U.S. government’s efforts to shield the private communications of top government officials from cyber-spying. Moreover, the intercepted emails often contained entail highly sensitive information such as schedules, diplomatic communiqués, and discussions regarding possible policy decisions. The President himself is known for his extensive use of his personal Blackberry, from which he reportedly communicates with staffers at all hours of the day on subjects ranging from his notes regarding speechwriting to policy matters.
The officials commenting on the investigation did not reveal how many emails were compromised, nor the gravity of the information contained within. The investigation does point to agents linked to the Russian government, presumed to have been acting under direct orders from the Russian government. These attacks appeared to have been carried at least up to October of last year, amidst a renewed atmosphere of mistrust between Russia and the United States over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Officials describe the attack as among the most sophisticated in terms of compromising government electronic security, claiming that compared to Chinese hackers, Russians prove to be much better at hiding their tracks and focus on politically sensitive targets instead of trade and corporate secrets. However, White House officials stress however that while the unclassified system in question has undoubtedly been compromised, the internal system for highly sensitive classified information sharing among the executive branch and its intelligence agencies—the so called Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System—have resisted attempted hackings against it.
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For more information:
Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails, Officials Say (The New York Times)