Takeaways from William Barr’s Testimony on the Mueller Report
Confused about how Russia hacked the 2016 election? US Attorney General William Barr testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was questioned about his opinions on the 448-page Report On The Investigation into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election written by Special Counsel Robert S Mueller, III. The report is commonly known as the Mueller Report and is the result of a two- year investigation into possible collusion, obstruction of justice, and Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The explanation of the Russian’s election interference begins on page 36 of the Mueller Report, Volume I.
There was obvious tension about a four-page letter, written by Barr, laying out the report’s principal conclusions. In a March 27 letter to Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote, “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
Focus of the testimony frequently shifted from allegations of collusion and obstruction to the attack vectors from Russian hackers to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential election, a contest between candidate Hillary Clinton and now President, Donald Trump. There were several long-term strategies deployed by Russians to influence the outcome of the election. Several groups of Russians were involved. The first was from a Russian research agency that worked to cause dissension into the political lives of US citizens. The second group was Russian military intelligence that hacked into voting-related technologies.
Who is the Russian Internet Research Agency?
The Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) launched an early effort via social media to amplify political discord in the United States. The IRA’s effort began in 2014 and included purchasing social media advertisements that favored candidate Trump. The IRA even traveled to the US in 2014 to take photos to make their social media posts more credible. Facebook posts reached millions of US citizens. The IRA staged grassroots political rallies in US cities promoted by fake personas and organizations.
Who is Russia’s GRU?
Russian military intelligence is formally known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army, or GRU for short. GRU worked from two separate units to hack election databases and voting technology. One GRU Unit infiltrated US targets with malware, while another GRU Unit launched spear phishing campaigns.
GRU Unit 26165
The first, GRU Unit 26165, hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) using a spear phishing email campaign in 2016. GRU hackers sent targeted spear phishing emails to campaign workers and were successful at tricking recipients into giving up login credentials.
GRU Unit 26165 hacked the email accounts of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign volunteers as well as paid campaign employees during the spring of 2016. Even the email of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s was hacked.
The IT systems of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were also hacked. After access was established, hundreds of thousands of documents were stolen from the servers. Hacked documents along with Podesta’s emails were released through DCLeaks and WikiLeaks.
GRU Unit 74455
The second, GRU Unit 74455, hacked into state and local boards of elections, including the Illinois State Board of Elections, and private companies that provide voting technology. Various official boards of election were hacked through their own websites, using SQL injection tactics. In this cyber attack vector, hackers used direct techniques to gain admin access to voter databases. After access was secured, the Russian hackers injected malicious SQL code and download voter data.
Malware was sent to Florida county election officials by the GRU, in November 2016. Spear phishing emails sent malware at individuals to gain access to their computers. The spear phishing emails had a Trojan Word document attachment. If the email was opened, the attachment launched malware that infected the recipient’s computer. Once infected, GRU was able to access the infected machine and the malware worked to infect more computers.
Interference with the election was not limited to skilled hackers. The Mueller Report found that personal Clinton servers were wiped clean by a tool known as Bleach bit. Two other personal data servers were destroyed with a simple hammer. Then there is the Steel Dossier which possibly shows more evidence of Russian collusion.