Members of the House GOP suffered a “major” hack during the 2018 midterm election, exposing thousands of sensitive emails to an unknown intruder, according to Politico, which cites three senior party officials.
The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months, the party officials said. The intrusion was detected in April by an NRCC vendor, who alerted the committee and its cybersecurity contractor. An internal investigation was initiated and the FBI was alerted to the attack, said the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the incident. –Politico
That said, the hack was concealed from senior House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) – who had no clue about the intrusion until Politico contacted the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) with questions about the hack.
Committee officials say they decided to withhold the information pending their own investigation, and thought that revealing the hack would compromise their efforts to uncover who did it.
“We don’t want to get into details about what was taken because it’s an ongoing investigation,” said one senior party official. “Let’s say they had access to four active accounts. I think you can draw from that.”
As the 2018 midterms unfolded, the hack became a major source of internal turmoil within the NRCC – which brought on D.C. law firm Covington and Burling and Mercury Public Affairs to manage the response to the hack. The two firms were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the GOP Committee, while NRCC chief legal counsel, Chris Winkleman, has spent hours of his time to addressing the issue.
While party officials would not say when the hack began or who they think did it, they privately think it was a foreign agent due to the nature of the attack.
“The NRCC can confirm that it was the victim of a cyber intrusion by an unknown entity. The cybersecurity of the Committee’s data is paramount, and upon learning of the intrusion, the NRCC immediately launched an internal investigation and notified the FBI, which is now investigating the matter,” said Mercury VP Ian Prior – a former DOJ official and NRCC operative.
“To protect the integrity of that investigation, the NRCC will offer no further comment on the incident,” he added.
Party officials claim that none of the information obtained in the hack – namely thousands of emails from senior NRCC aides, has appeared in public, while there were no attempts to approach the NRCC or its leadership to threaten exposure of the data. That said, Politico notes that the hack and subsequent coverup “is likely to prove embarrassing at a time when Republicans are grappling with an election in which they lost 40 seats and control of the house.”
Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.) will take over as NRCC chairman this cycle, a selection that was directly approved by McCarthy. Emmer is in the process of hiring his own senior aides for the committee, a normal procedure when a new chairman takes over a party committee. Emmer was first briefed on the hack on Monday evening.
Cybersecurity remains a pressing concern for politicians and political committees, heightened by the high-profile Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta during the 2016 election cycle. It’s not clear, however, what the NRCC could have done to avoid this intrusion.
The hack was first detected by an MSSP, a managed security services provider that monitors the NRCC’s network. The MSSP informed NRCC officials and they, in turn, alerted Crowdstrike, a well-known cybersecurity firm that had already been retained by the NRCC.
So now the (sarcastic) question becomes – who is Putin (because, who else) rooting for? According to former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile, there may be as many as 30 candidates who run in 2020. One name she thinks won’t toss their hat in the ring? Hillary Clinton.