At a time when the U.S.- China tension has escalated, the head of Google's Threat Analysist Group revealed that Chinese-backed hackers have been found increasingly busy targeting former American Vice President and front runner of the 2020 U.S. election Joe Biden's campaign staff. It was also found that another group of hackers from Iran have been targeting President Donald Trump's campaign staff.
TAG's head, Shane Huntley claimed that the cybercriminals have been targeting both with phishing attacks but there was no sign the attempts were successful.
The hackers are back
The head of Google's TAG announced the new findings on twitter. He said that the tech giant Google has forwarded all their findings to federal law enforcement agencies.
It should be noted that "phishing" is a cyberattack that uses disguised email as a weapon to trick the email recipient into believing that the malicious message is something they want or need and prompted to click the phishing link or download an attachment.
The announcement from the Google team reminded that as Russia's meddling into the 2016 U.S. election is out in the open, other countries could attempt to replicate some or all of it during this election cycle.
Biden's campaign management team said that Google had notified it of the attempted cyberattack. The team said in a statement: "We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them," and added that "Biden for President takes cybersecurity seriously. We will remain vigilant against these threats and will ensure that the campaign's assets are secured."
Here it needs to be mentioned that an earler report by security company Emsisoft revealed that the use of outdated operating systems by election jurisdictions, widespread disregard for cybersecurity practices among local governments and low levels of public faith in the integrity of the election system have created a perfect scenario for ransomware attacks, which has been rising in the U.S. These attacks will disrupt the election process and can undermine the public confidence in the result.
Targeting Eelection Cycle is Not New
Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Russian hackers attacked the Ukrainian gas company that paid Biden's son for a time. Later, Microsoft announced that in 2019 Iranian hackers were found targeting President Trump's campaign staffers as well as journalists and current and former U.S. officials.
But there is nothing to be surprised about as election security community has been saying for years that the campaigns are potentially the most vulnerable part of the election cycle, as often they don't have enough money or time to develop long-term security plans. The less experienced staffers and volunteers who also use their own equipment and accounts can make the situation vulnerable.
In 2008, NPR reported quoting Robby Mook, Hilary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager who had said, "The irony of campaigns is they are the grittiest and least-resourced startups that are out there, but they're incredibly valuable targets."
After the Democratic National Committee came under scrutiny for cyber failings in 2016, they publicly released the campaign cybersecurity checklists. In the same year, the Russian influence specialists released material stolen from Democrats with an intention to embarrass the party's leaders.
Aaron Higbee, the co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Cofense said that attackers also continue to grow more advanced. He encountered a phishing email sent by the Russian hackers to the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016. "What that says to me is they didn't have to try that hard to hack the 2016 election. They're certainly more capable, and that's what we should be looking out for," he said.