Russian military intelligence perpetrated a broad campaign to hack the network of a voter registration services company and target voting officials days before the US presidential election, according to allegedly leaked NSA documents.
The report was handed to investigative website The Intercept by an anonymous source. While it does not show any "raw" intelligence on which the analysis is based, the report does give a glimpse into the shadowy world of cyber-espionage and the NSA's understanding of events.
The report, which both the publication and CBS said they have independently verified, claimed the campaign by Russia's military began in August 2016 when hackers attempted to gain access to systems belonging to Florida-based VR Systems. VR Systems was not directly identified in the report, but the report contains references to products made by the company.
The documents state that Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, carried out attacks.
Hackers then used stolen credentials to send spear-phishing emails to 122 local voting officials around the US. This attack was carried out "on either October 31 or November 1", the report says.
Attachments in these emails, if opened, infected computers with malware that would allow hackers to access officials' PCs.
Such infiltration would have enabled an attacker to alter or delete voter registration information to create delays at polling stations. However, the report does not offer any evidence that any such attacks were successful.
The report concluded "with high confidence" that Russian ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort "to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency."
Since the publication of the report, the Justice Department announced that a criminal complaint was filed in the Southern District of Georgia charging Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor, with removing classified material from a government facility and sending it to a news outlet.
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Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.