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The Other Scary Foreign Hacking Threat Trump Is Ignoring

On June 13, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions  testified to the Senate Intelligence committee about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After fielding hours of questions about his knowledge of the plot, Sessions was greeted by an abrupt change in topic from Senator John McCain. “Quietly, the Kremlin has been trying to map the United States telecommunications infrastructure,” McCain announced, and described a series of alarming moves, including Russian spies monitoring the fiber optic network in Kansas and Russia’s creation of “a cyber weapon that can disrupt the United States power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.” When McCain asked if Sessions had a strategy to counter Russia’s attacks, Sessions admitted they did not. In a normal year, McCain’s inquiries about documented, dangerous threats to U.S. infrastructure would have dominated the news. His concerns are well founded: in recent years, Ukraine’s power grid has been  repeatedly hacked in what cybersecurity experts believe was part a test run for the United States. Russian hackers have also hacked many centers of U.S. power, including the  State Department , the  White House , and everyone with a  Yahoo email address in 2014, the  Department of Defense in 2015, and, of course, the  Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee ,  state and local voter databases , and  personal email accounts of various  US officials in 2016. But while the role of hacks in the election is the subject of several ongoing probes, the hacks of other U.S. institutions and infrastructures have been largely ignored by the Trump administration, even as the hacking became more aggressive throughout 2017. In June, shortly after McCain’s testimony, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI  released an urgent joint report stating that U.S. nuclear power stations and other energy facilities had been hacked. In July, Bloomberg and the Washington Post   confirmed that the  hackers worked for the Russian government. While U.S. government officials stressed that the public was not yet at serious risk, claiming the hackers had not yet gained the ability to control the grid, intelligence officers  warned that infrastructure attacks by a hostile state can also operate as a form of political leverage. Most analyses of the 2016 election hacks have framed leverage in personal terms: kompromat stolen from hacked emails used to blackmail individuals into submission or to humiliate officials as part of a propaganda campaign.

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The Other Scary Foreign Hacking Threat Trump Is Ignoring

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