Remember the old spiritual, “Dry Bones?” You know, the thighbone’s connected to the knee bone and the knee bone’s connected to the leg bone and so on and so on?
That’s kind of the way things are in the digital universe, where one thing can and does usually lead to another.
That’s why the original announcement that the digital files of the Democratic National Committee had been penetrated by hackers has been followed by an almost daily series of dropping shoes. The DNC’s connected to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DCCC is connected to …lot of things, firms that analyze voting patterns and opinion trends, firms that identify good targets for fund-raising and hundreds of people who are dunned for funds, or who contribute on their own, or email to ask the Democrats a question or make a comment.
The original hack has become that famous snowball, rolling down hill, adding more and more snow, and mud and small stones, growing endlessly larger, until it reaches bottom.
By the sound of a variety of news reports, the most recent by Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt in The New York Times, the big ball of victims of hacker exploitation hasn’t gotten to the bottom yet. As Lichtblau and Schmitt have it, the “Russian cyber attack that targeted Democratic politicians … breached the private email accounts of more than 100 party officials and groups.”
Some days earlier, my old ABC News colleagues Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz and Matthew Mosk revealed the hackers’ haul included “data about every contribution to the party, Hillary Clinton’s victory fund, and to Obama going back to 2013. The file includes email addresses and phone numbers” of contributors. One victim, former U.S. Ambassador to Austria William Eacho told ABC he and his wife had gotten unwanted phone calls, and noted at least two attempt to start bogus bank accounts in his name.
This strongly suggests, if the hack was originally the work of Russian intelligence, as seems to be the strong consensus in Washington these days, the spies are connected to more run-of-the-mill cyber-crooks, engaged in pretty typical kinds of spear-phishing.
If one hack can lead to another…one kind of crime can lead to another, especially if the real target is the disruption of the 2016 elections. What if hackers attacked not party sites, but voting machines?
Shane Harris is a Sr. Intelligence and National Security Correspondent for The Daily Beast and an ASU Future of War Fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of two books: @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, and The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State.