Posted on July 15, 2017 at 1:55 PM
This Tuesday, a hacker hiding behind the name of Johnny Walker announced via group email sent to an unknown number of people about having a possession of private emails of a U.S. official.
The email contained a claim of the officer’s email being hacked and included the private correspondence going as far as two years back from a personal Gmail account of State Department official whose job is in the secretive intelligence which focus is Russia.
Among the emails could be found correspondence with mainstream media, CIA officials and similar intelligence agencies, NGOs and international funds, all containing sensitive information about many countries’ officials all over the world.
The officer whose email has been reportedly hacked is a senior position in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Due to security concerns, the department asked for the official not to be identified, even though his name is public.
The Gmail account in question is personal and emails include sensitive private information.
State Department chose not to comment on whether the emails are fake or not. They stated that they are aware of their officials being the usual target for hackers to break into their personal email accounts and added that their policy is to not discuss it.
This particular, officer, though, is an important target because of his knowledge of Russian politics and organized crime.
One source claimed the officer in question knows what is going on in Russia more than anyone.
It is unknown if this action is a part of a series of hacks or not, but it comes in the middle of a growing investigation of Russian cyber attacks, which started with the 2016 U.S. presidential election’s debacle. The targets are experts and think tanks whose focus is Russia, according to officials.
More than a dozen of U.S. think tanks have been under the attack of hackers, according to a 2016 document from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis. One of them included Russia-Turkey relations’ information. The document also said that the department expected their think tanks to be targeted due to the importance of their bonds with US government information and personnel.
According to James Comey, who testified on the said subject in March, Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election began in 2015, with their intelligence services sending phishing attacks in order to break into the computers of many political organizations, Democratic and Republican both. He claims it continued throughout the winter of 2016.
The official whose email has been hacked had written conversations with mostly other Russia experts in government as well as in academia.
While unaware of the hack, many of the official’s coworkers weren’t surprised by the action due to all the thing that recently happened.
Another expert on Russia has been a victim of a hacker recently, said another source found among the list of people who had correspondence with the official. The expert in question is an Australian academic who has worked with the government in the past. The tactic used at the time is a signature move used for Putin’s enemies – framing the victim as an intelligence agent.
Celeste Wallander warned that people should always assume that all of their correspondence could be read, stolen and used, and added that she is prepared for it.
Wallander and other discussed Russia policy off the record with the Arizona State University.
While no evidence has been found on whether it was Russian hackers that targeted the official, what’s interesting is that the first media outlet to write of the hack was a small website in Crimea which uploaded the emails and gave a link to the cache. An ex-employee claimed that Russian secret service is financing the site.
An editor of the website denied such allegations, claiming that the website never published the emails in the first place. The article has been taken down and then republished later in the day.
John Sipher commented saying that this action is in sync with Russia’s behavior and that it is highly likely that they carried out the hack.
While it does seem that the hackers are Russian, Jeffrey Carr, a cybersecurity expert, says that these types of actions are not unusual. Hacking an email is relatively easy for hackers to do, and the goal could be just gaining street cred or glory. He explained that he had hackers send him similar contents in hopes he would write about them, even though there was no other story than that they have hacked an email.