Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian officials Friday revealed a host of new information on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The indictments shed light on the people behind attacks that targeted the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as well as some state elections officials and hundreds of thousands of voters.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there’s no evidence that the attacks interfered with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday the indictment included a “vast amount of information” that was not previously known by committee members.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the latest indictment.
Who was hacked?
The indictment says that the Russian officials stole documents from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
To steal victims’ passwords and gain access to their computers, the alleged hackers used a technique known as “spearphishing,” which involved sending emails that appeared to be from a trusted source and encouraged users to click on a link that would compromise their accounts.
The “Conspirators,” as they are repeatedly called in the indictment, targeted the Clinton campaign with spearphishing attacks throughout the summer of 2016, according to the indictment, and successfully gained access to thousands of emails, including 50,000 emails from the chairman of the Clinton campaign.
The indictment says intelligence officers also implanted malware on the DNC and DCCC networks, “which allowed them to monitor individual employees’ computer activity, steal passwords, and maintain access to the DCCC network.”
The hackers, part of a Russian military intelligence agency, used false identities
The indictment said the officers were part of a unit within a military intelligence agency operated by the Russian government, and created two false identities to avoid detection: “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.” Posing as Guccifer 2.0, and claiming to be a lone Romanian hacker, the officers were able to steal donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,000 Democratic donors. They also shared that information. The indictment claims that on Aug. 15, 2016, the “Conspirators,” using a “Guccifer 2.0” facade, “wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign for Donald J. Trump.”
The indictment also states that an American reporter received stolen data from Guccifer 2.0, and went on to publish that material.
In August 2017, former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone admitted to emailing with Guccifer 2.0. Stone wrote an opinion article with Breitbart News telling Clinton to stop blaming Russia for the hacking of DNC data. “It doesn’t seem to be the Russians that hacked the DNC, but instead a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0,” Stone wrote in the piece. But, as the indictment shows, Guccifer 2.0 was is in fact Russian intelligence officers.
The online persona DCLeaks was also used to publish emails from people related to the Clinton campaign.
Cryptocurrency was used to hide hackers’ identities
The indictment claims the Russian intelligence officers used cryptocurrency to purchase servers, register internet domains and make other payments relating to their efforts to hack into the computers of people associated with the 2016 election.
By using bitcoin, the hackers were able to “avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds,” the indictment reads.
The people facing charges initially acquired bitcoin by purchasing it through online exchanges, using prepaid cards or by mining it themselves.
Bitcoin transactions are public, but many bitcoin-related sites do not require personal information, making it difficult to determine who is behind an account. Still, government officials can potentially trace bitcoin users using IP addresses and email accounts linked to the transactions. (Other, newer cryptocurrencies such as Monero are designed to be practically untraceable but are not as widely accepted as a form of payment as bitcoin.)
A congressional candidate requested stolen documents from the hackers
The indictment alleges that a candidate for Congress requested stolen documents from the hackers.
The hackers, posing as the persona Guccifer 2.0, sent documents relating to the candidate’s opponent, according to the indictment, which does not name the candidate or their opponent.
The indictment indicates Guccifer 2.0 also sent data stolen from the DCCC to a registered state lobbyist and other documents relating to the Black Lives matter movement to a reporter.
The hackers targeted state voting systems
The indictment said two named defendants knowingly conspired to hack computers of U.S. “persons,” state agencies and companies involved in overseeing the 2016 elections. These included “state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and US. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of US. elections,” the indictments said.
According to the indictments, the defendants designed a web address to send “100 spearphishing emails to organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties.”
Florida Department of State officials told the PBS NewsHour that they were informed by the Department of Homeland Security in September 2017 that state elections were targeted.
“This attempt was not in any way successful and Florida’s online elections databases and voting systems remained secure,” Sarah Revell, the communications director for Florida Department of State, said after the indictment. She noted that officials remain “focused on the continued security and integrity of Florida’s elections in 2018 and beyond.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday that the Russian officials successfully hacked the website of a state election board, and stole information on 500,000 voters. Another breach mentioned in the indictment includes a U.S. company that verifies voter registration information.
The National Association of State Election Directors, a group of state election directors and administrators, declined to comment.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said on Twitter on Friday that the indictment “reveals Russia tried to hack election software and equipment companies. But the biggest voting machine companies refuse to answer the most basic questions about whether they are adequately protecting our elections.”