A U.S. cybersecurity company says Russian military agents have successfully hacked the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the scandal that led to President Donald Trump's impeachment.
The hacking against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden once served, began in early November as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.
Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
What it means
It is not yet clear what the hackers found or precisely what they were searching for.
Experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.
The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia’s hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.
Then, as now, the Russian hackers from a military intelligence unit known formerly as the GRU, and to private researchers by the alias “Fancy Bear,” used so-called phishing emails that appear designed to steal usernames and passwords, according to Area1, the Silicon Valley security firm that detected the hacking.
In this instance, the hackers set up fake websites that mimicked sign-in pages of Burisma subsidiaries and have been blasting Burisma employees with emails meant to look like they are coming from inside the company.
The hackers fooled some of them into handing over their login credentials and managed to get inside one of Burisma’s servers, Area1 said.
Vladimir Putin warned
National security adviser Robert O’Brien said on ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. government is “concerned” about a report that Russia may be attempting to undermine Biden’s presidential campaign.
Trump has warned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, not to conduct any such election tampering, O’Brien said on the Sunday show.
“He’s absolutely told Putin to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” he said.
O’Brien was asked about a Bloomberg News report on Friday that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are assessing whether Russia is trying to undermine Biden’s 2020 campaign with an ongoing disinformation operation.
“Look, I don’t want Russians, or Chinese, or Iranians or any others interfering with the Trump campaign, with the Biden campaign, with any campaign,” O’Brien said. “And I think the president feels absolutely the same way.”
The former vice president remains the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to an average of opinion polls from RealClearPolitics.
O’Brien said the idea Trump would collude with Russia was “a partisan fantasy.” Various countries, including China, Iran and Russia, would prefer “a more malleable leader” than Trump, he added.
Trump has bridled at findings that Russia mounted a massive effort to attack Clinton, his 2016 Democratic opponent, and by doing so boost his candidacy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, speaking on the same show, said the administration isn’t doing enough to prevent meddling in this year’s campaign.
“The president of the United States is in complete denial about Russia’s role. As I have said in terms of this president, all roads lead to Putin,” Pelosi said.
— This story contains reporting by Alan Levin of Tribune News Service. Compiled by ArLuther Lee, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.