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Posted on September 16, 2016

Whither Goest Thou, Russia?

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating both a Russian-led cyber invasion of the Democratic National Convention at about the same time that the World Anti-Doping Agency, which screens Olympic athletes for performance-enhancing substances, confirmed that Russian hackers accessed confidential medical data and released the drug regimens of top Olympians. And what’s weird is this: security experts have agreed that both attacks were carried out by “Fancy Bear,” a Russian government-sponsored hacking group.

The group, which is also known by the less-whimsical name APT28, works for the military intelligence service GRU, and may also be linked to the release of embarrassing DNC emails by WikiLeaks in July. Researchers say the group has also been active in propaganda operations. Last year, it successfully hacked the French TV5Monde station, knocking the network off the air for eighteen hours.

These same infamous hackers invaded official servers of top Democrats and succeeded in stealing the entire Trump opposition file. Crowdstrike investigated the incident for the Democratic Party and concluded it was the same perpetrator that had managed to penetrate the State Department, White House, and Pentagon unclassified systems in 2015.

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) continues to receive leaks from Fancy Bear; US athletes including Simone Biles as well as Venus and Serena Williams have been disparaged in the reports, clearly intended to discredit American achievements in Rio. Motivation seems to come, at least in part, from resentment: one leak came after most of Russia’s track and field team was banned from this year’s Olympics, following probes that found evidence of a deeply-entrenched government-run doping scheme.

Apparently, what is happening in both the higher echelons of big politics and with the equivalent American athletic “Gods” on Mt. Olympus is part of a broad covert Russian operation in the United States. The aim? To take down sacred cows and sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in all U.S. institutions, including political . . . intelligence and congressional officials said.

None of this should be particularly surprising from an online security standpoint. Just last year, a group called the Online Trust Alliance surveyed major presidential campaign websites and found that only six met basic standards for security, privacy and consumer data protection. Recently, the FBI issued an unprecedented warning to state and local officials to potential cyber threats, urging them to be on the lookout for intrusions into their election systems and to take steps to upgrade security and privacy measures across the voting process, including election-related websites, voter rolls, and voter registration data.

Regardless, there is likely more to come from the Russians. There is a wave of discontent unprecedented since the Cold War-era, and the tools of attack have become infinitely more nuanced since then. Internet security is as important as military defensive maneuvers, and much damage can be done by a small group of people working out of a room… anywhere.