A new report reveals that a digital hit list attributed to Russian hackers contained extensive targets far beyond the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
The digital hit list revealed that a hacking group known as Fancy Bear — which experts have long believed was connected to the Russian government — tried to use its phishing operation to break into roughly 4,700 Gmail inboxes worldwide, according to the Associated Press. The targets ranged from American policymakers like Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Colin Powell to a political magazine in Armenia, adversaries of Russian separatists in Ukraine, the punk rock band Pussy Riot and more than a dozen Democratic Party targets besides former Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta.
The one thing that these targets have in common is that hurting them or damaging their credibility would in some way advance the Russian government's interests.
"It’s a wish list of who you’d want to target to further Russian interests," Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, told the Associated Press after reviewing the list. He described it as "a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence."
The Fancy Bear targets were discovered by security service company SecureWorks, which happened across the list when one of their researchers worked backward from a server that was tied to one of Fancy Bear's main pieces of software. The researcher discovered a Bitly account that Fancy Bear had forgotten to set to private and was using to send links without being stopped by Google's spam filter. At that point, the researcher began monitoring Fancy Bear's activities. The Associated Press validated the list.
In addition to learning about the scope of Fancy Bear's activities, SecureWorks was able to determine that more than 95 percent of the malicious links created by the group were manufactured during Moscow office hours. More importantly, it learned that Fancy Bear began its concerted effort to hack into DNC emails in early April 2016, which coincides with when the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike claimed Russian hackers had compromised the Democratic National Committee.
Although the American intelligence community published a report in January 2017 officially concluding that the Russian government had hacked the 2016 presidential election, that report did not contain any smoking guns proving that this had indeed happened. The revelations about Fancy Bear reported by the Associated Press constitute more conclusive evidence.