Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 25, 2015

Apparently, Russian Hackers Read Obama’s Unclassified Emails

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Christopher Bellavita on April 25, 2015

An eight sentence summary of a longer story from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON – Some of President Obama’s email correspondence was swept up by Russian hackers last year in a breach of the White House’s unclassified computer system that was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged, according to senior American officials briefed on the investigation.

White House officials said that no classified networks had been compromised, and that the hackers had collected no classified information.

The hacking happened at a moment of renewed tension with Russia – over its annexation of Crimea, the presence of its forces in Ukraine and its renewed military patrols in Europe, reminiscent of the Cold War.

Inside the White House, the intrusion has raised a new debate about whether it is possible to protect a president’s electronic presence, especially when it reaches out from behind the presumably secure firewalls of the executive branch.

While the White House has refused to identify the nationality of the hackers, others familiar with the investigation said that in both the White House and State Department cases, all signs pointed to Russians.

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter revealed for the first time that Russian hackers had attacked the Pentagon’s unclassified systems, but said they had been identified and “Kicked off.”

Defense Department officials declined to say if the signatures of the attacks on the Pentagon appeared related to the White House and State Department attacks. The discovery of the hacking in October led to a partial shutdown of the White House email system.

The hackers appear to have been evicted from the White House systems by the end of October. 

One thing interesting to me is that the summary was prepared by a website: http://smmry.com/about.

The summary is not perfect. But that it can be done at all and as well is – to me – as amazing as someone hacking White House emails.

All this reminded my of a few paragraphs I read in an April 2000 Wired article written by Bill Joy:

“First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.

If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.”

Moral for the future? Write your emails as if they will be hacked.  Read articles on the internet as if they were written by computers.

(Bill Joy’s Wired article is called “Why the future doesn’t need us.”  The quoted material was written by Ted Kaczynski, in his Unabomber Manifesto.)


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Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 25, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

We must now assume that there is no longer an expectation of privacy. Are activities are collected, catalogued, and available to the highest bidder or political enemies.

At some point, those who do not generate data, pay with cash, and minimize their digital footprint will be identified as outliers first, suspects second, and enemies of the state.

For example, any business that accepts cash in the amount of $2,000 or more from a customer must file a “Suspicious Activities Report’ with the Treasury Department. Any deposits or withdrawals of what may be deemed as suspicious can trigger a SAR.

If SONY can be hacked and others blackmailed and the POTUS email is hacked, really, what are our expectations?

What do you have to hide?

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 26, 2015 @ 10:12 am

Much to hide! Buying a pitchfork each month to arm the peasants when they storm the BASTILLE!

Comment by Donald Quixote

April 27, 2015 @ 9:42 am

It is quite a thought that even the White House cannot secure their unclass email. It is time to hire some Russian Black Hats to work on our computer security. It appears to be a lost art here.

My carrier pigeons are becoming more valuable.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

April 27, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

I confess that this is very low on my list of concerns, although it really is pretty sad. I am considerably more concerned with the mountains of all sorts of data that the government now feels both free and compelled to collect, without cause, on just about any and everyone at this point – and the extent to which its analysis has completely overwhelmed and dramatically defocused the security entities that it was supposed to help. I’m also concerned with the extent to which you no longer need to have much of anything to hide to become a target of the homeland security “enterprise” at this point as well. I’m also much more interested in reading about men (and I do mean men) reflecting considerably more about their relationship with and indeed use and often abuse of the real actual human and natural world, rather than machines – no matter how clever the software that runs them might be. I think that would make us all considerably safer in the long run than probably just about anything else.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 28, 2015 @ 8:46 am


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