Exactly seven months before the 2016 presidential election, Russian government hackers made it onto a Democratic committee’s network. One of their carefully crafted fraudulent emails had hit pay dirt, enticing an employee to click a link and enter a password. That breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first significant step in gaining access to the Democratic National Committee network.
To steal politically sensitive information, prosecutors say, the hackers exploited some of the United States’ own computer infrastructure against it, using servers they leased in Arizona and Illinois. The details were included in an indictment released Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, who accused the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, of taking part in a wide-ranging conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The companies operating the servers were not identified in the court papers.
The Russians are accused of exploiting their access to inexpensive, powerful servers worldwide — conveniently available for rental — that can be used to commit crimes with impunity. Reaching across oceans and into networks without borders can obfuscate their origins. The indictment painstakingly reconstructs the hackers’ movements using web servers and a complex bitcoin financing operation.