US House committee wants evidence for Trump’s wiretap claim

FBI Director James Comey speaks at a cybersecurity conference at Boston College on March 8, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Comey has been asked by the US House Committee on Intelligence to address recent claims by President Donald Trump that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of then-candidate Trump. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 12 March 2017
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US House committee wants evidence for Trump’s wiretap claim

WASHINGTON: The House intelligence committee is asking the Trump administration for evidence that the phones at Trump Tower were tapped during the campaign as its namesake has charged.
President Donald Trump asserted in a tweet last week: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” He continued the allegation against former President Barack Obama in other tweets but offered no evidence.
On Saturday a senior congressional aide said the request for evidence by Monday was made in a letter sent by the committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, according to the aide, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the request by name and requested anonymity.
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has said that nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place, but that has not quelled speculation that Trump’s communications were monitored by the Obama administration. Trump has asked Congress to investigate.
Early this week, Schiff said the committee would answer the president’s call to investigate the claim. He also said that he would ask FBI Director James Comey directly when he appears later this month before the full committee, which is investigating Russian activities during the election.
“We should be able to determine in fairly short order whether this allegation is true or false,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday evening at the Capitol.
Nunes has said that so far he has not seen any evidence to back up Trump’s claim and has suggested the news media were taking the president’s weekend tweets too literally.
“The president is a neophyte to politics — he’s been doing this a little over a year,” Nunes told reporters earlier this week.
Other lawmakers have asked for similar evidence.
Declaring that Congress “must get to the bottom” of Trump’s claim, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse asked Comey and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to produce the paper trail created when the Justice Department’s criminal division secures warrants for wiretaps.


Russian hackers used US online infrastructure against itself

A man walks past the building of the Russian military intelligence service in Moscow, Russia, in this July 14, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Russian hackers used US online infrastructure against itself

  • The Russians are accused of exploiting their access to inexpensive, powerful servers worldwide
  • The hackers accessed DNC data in September 2016 by breaking into DNC computers hosted on the Amazon Web Services’ cloud

WASHINGTON: 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 her 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.
Two Russian hacking units were charged with tasks, including the creation and management of a hacking tool called “X-agent” that was implanted onto computers. The software allowed them to monitor activity on computers by individuals, steal passwords and maintain access to hacked networks. It captured each keystroke on infected computers and took screenshots of activity displayed on computer screens, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s online banking information.
From April to June 2016, the hackers installed updated versions of their software on at least 10 Democratic computers. The software transmitted information from the infected computers to a GRU-leased server in Arizona, the indictment said. The hackers also created an overseas computer to act as a “middle server” to obscure the connection between the DCCC and the hackers’ Arizona-based server.
Once hackers gained access to the DCCC network, it searched one computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump” and copied select folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.”
In emails, the hackers embedded a link that purported to be a spreadsheet of Clinton’s favorability ratings, but instead it directed the computers to send its data to a GRU-created website.
Meanwhile, around the same time, the hackers broke into 33 DNC computers and installed their software on their network. Captured keystrokes and screenshots from the DCCC and DNC computers, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s banking information, were sent back to the Arizona server.
The Russian hackers used other software they developed called X-Tunnel to move stolen documents through encrypted channels to another computer the GRU leased in Illinois.
Despite the use of US-based servers, such vendors typically aren’t legally liable for criminal activities unless it can be proved in federal court that the operator was party to the criminal activity.
A 1996 federal statute protects Internet vendors from being held liable for how customers use their service, and except for a few exceptions, provides immunity to the providers. The law is considered a key part of the legal infrastructure of the Internet, preventing providers from being saddled with the behemoth task of monitoring activity on their servers.
“The fact that someone provided equipment and or connectivity that was used to engage in data theft is not going to be attributed to the vendor in that circumstance,” Eric Goldman, a professor of law and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, said. A notable exception, however, is if federal prosecutors are bringing a criminal charge for violations of a federal criminal law.
In that case, “we’re going to require a high level of knowledge of their activity or intent,” Goldman said.
When the DNC and DCCC became aware they had been hacked, they hired a cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, to determine the extent of the intrusions. Crowdstrike, referred to as “Company 1” in the indictment, took steps to kick the hackers off the networks around June 2016. But for months the Russians eluded their investigators and a version of the malware remained on the network through October — programed to communicate back to a GRU-registered Internet address.
“We do not have any information to suggest that it successfully communicated,” said Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director.
As the company worked to kick them off, GRU officials allegedly searched online for information on Company 1 and what it had reported about its use of X-Agent malware and tried to delete their traces on the DCCC network by using commercial software known as CCleaner. Though Crowdstrike disabled X-agent on the DCCC network, the hackers spent seven hours unsuccessfully trying to connect to their malware and tried using previously stolen credentials to access the network on June 20, 2016.
The indictment also shows the reliance of Russian government hackers on American technology companies such as Twitter, to spread its stolen documents.
The hackers also accessed DNC data in September 2016 by breaking into DNC computers hosted on the Amazon Web Services’ cloud. The hackers used Amazon Web Services’ backup feature to create “snapshots” that they moved onto their own Amazon cloud accounts. Amazon also provides cloud computing services for various government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.