Russian hacking groups played a larger role in the 2016 election than anyone realized, according to a highly-classified NSA document published today in The Intercept. The document reveals that a Russian intelligence operation sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials days before the election, which ran through a hack of a U.S. voting software supplier. The Russian cyber espionage operation was functional for months before the 2016 U.S. election. From the report: It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document: "Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors ... executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. ... The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to ... launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations." This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin's denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: "We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so." Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with "patriotic leanings" may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.
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