Overnight Cybersecurity: Republicans grill intel officials on DNC defenses

Overnight Cybersecurity: Republicans grill intel officials on DNC defenses
© Greg Nash

Welcome to OVERNIGHT CYBERSECURITY, your daily rundown of the biggest news in the world of hacking and data privacy. We're here to connect the dots as leaders in government, policy and industry try to counter the rise in cyber threats. What lies ahead for Congress, the administration and the latest company under siege? Whether you're a consumer, a techie or a D.C. lifer, we're here to give you ...


--THIS, NOT THIS: Republicans on Tuesday followed Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE's lead by attempting to shift the focus away from the broader Russian influence campaign and onto the cyber defenses of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the matter, multiple lawmakers pressed senior intelligence officials on the security of the DNC's servers and similar but unsuccessful efforts by Kremlin-backed hackers on Republican targets. "There seems to have been a disparity between the RNC servers and the DNC servers in terms of their vulnerability," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn raises more than M for Senate GOP Is the Biden administration afraid of trade? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE (Texas), the Senate's second-ranking Republican. "Is good practice, in terms of defenses, important in terms of securing information like that that was stolen in these hacks?" Russian hackers did infiltrate some Republicans using similar techniques to the DNC hack, but they never broke into the current Republican National Committee (RNC) domain or the Trump campaign, FBI Director James B. Comey said on Tuesday. There were successful penetrations of some state-level Republican groups and campaigns, Comey said, and some "limited penetration of old RNC domains" -- but those domains "were no longer in use" at the time of the hack. "Information was harvested from there, but it was old stuff,'' Comey added. "We did not develop any evidence that the Trump campaign or the current RNC was successfully hacked.'' The techniques that Russian hackers used to try to break into the RNC were similar to those used in the DNC hack, Comey said, but "there's no doubt they were more successful on DNC, deeper and wider than RNC." Officials provided little evidence to suggest that the intensity of the Russian effort to break into Republican networks was complementary to its effort to infiltrate Democratic ones.


--MORE FROM THE INTEL HEARING: The FBI requested direct access to the DNC's hacked computer servers but was denied, Comey told lawmakers. The bureau made "multiple requests at different levels," according to Comey, but ultimately struck an agreement with the DNC that a "highly respected private company" would get access and share what it found with investigators. "We'd always prefer to have access hands-on ourselves if that's possible," Comey said, noting that he didn't know why the DNC rebuffed the FBI's request. The DNC and the bureau have been quibbling in news reports over whether the FBI asked to examine its servers directly. The DNC told BuzzFeed in a statement published last week that the FBI never requested access to its servers after they were breached. But a senior law enforcement official disputed that characterization the following day. To read our full piece, click here.

--NOW HEAR THIS: Neither of the two Cabinet nominees who had hearings today - Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE for Attorney General and John Kelly for Secretary of Homeland Security - found reason to doubt the intelligence community report that Russia was behind breaches at the Democratic National Committee and other agencies. Kelly accepted the report "with high confidence," Sessions said he had faith in agencies like the FBI -- who would be under his jurisdiction at Justice -- but was unable to make a decision on the issue. Sessions's reasoning - that he hasn't looked into the issue made headlines. More on that below...



--UNLEASH THE HOUNDS. Senators are rolling out new sanctions against Russia as lawmakers debate how to respond to its meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

The bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was introduced Tuesday and comes in response to cyberattacks as well as ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

"We have been attacked by Russia," Cardin told reporters at a press conference. "That is no longer subject to debate." 

In addition to Cardin and McCain, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Ben Sasse (Neb.), as well as Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) are supporting the bill.

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate's top Democrat, also announced separately on Tuesday that he will support the legislation, urging the Senate to take it up "promptly."

To read our full piece, from Jordain Carney, click here.



MAYBE NONE OF THIS MATTERS: Two out of three Americans can't name a single cabinet pick.  



--JEFF SESSIONS. Answering a question about his take on the Russian election interference scandal during his confirmation hearing, the attorney general nominee said he was not qualified to take a position on the intelligence community's conclusion that Russian tried to sway the outcome of the presidential election.

"I have done no research into [Russian hacking]," the Alabama Republican senator said in response to questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The FBI, one of the three big intelligence agencies cited in the declassified report connecting attacks on the Democratic National Committee and others to the Russian government, is under the umbrella of the Department of Justice. Sessions would oversee the FBI as attorney general.

To read our full piece, click here.




--Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, 9 a.m.


--James Mattis for Defense secretary, 9:30 a.m.

--Mike Pompeo for director of the CIA, 10 a.m.



Links from our blog, The Hill, and around the Web.

A second, smaller, hack of the Ukrainian power grid has also been attributed to foreign hacking. (Motherboard).

Security firm CloudFlare has been fighting a gag order on a national security letter (NSL) since 2013. NSLs are like national security warrants that don't require the same evidentiary burden. (EFF)

The House passed exemptions for net neutrality laws for small internet service providers. (House Small Business)

German efforts to protect its election will include an anti-fake news bureau in its news office. (Daily Dot).


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