Chinese and Iranian hackers targeted Biden and Trump campaigns, Google says

Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks about President Donald Trump’s response to protests across the U.S. during an event at City Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 2, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 04 June 2020

Chinese and Iranian hackers targeted Biden and Trump campaigns, Google says

  • State-backed hackers from China have targeted staffers working on the US presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden
  • Iranian hackers had recently targeted email accounts belonging to Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign staff

WASHINGTON: State-backed hackers from China have targeted staffers working on the US presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden, a senior Google security official said on Thursday. The same official said Iranian hackers had recently targeted email accounts belonging to Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign staff.
The announcement, made on Twitter by the head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, Shane Huntley, is the latest indication of the digital spying routinely aimed at top politicians.
Huntley said there was “no sign of compromise” of either campaign.
Iranian attempts to break into Trump campaign officials’ emails have been documented before. Last year, Microsoft Corp. announced that a group often nicknamed Charming Kitten had tried to break into email accounts belonging to an unnamed US presidential campaign, which sources identified as Trump’s.
Earlier this year, the threat intelligence company Area 1 Security said Russian hackers had targeted companies tied to a Ukrainian gas firm where Biden’s son once served on the board.
Google declined to offer details beyond Huntley’s tweets, but the unusually public attribution is a sign of how sensitive Americans have become to digital espionage efforts aimed at political campaigns.
“We sent the targeted users our standard government-backed attack warning and we referred this information to federal law enforcement,” a Google representative said.
Hacking to interfere in elections has become a concern for governments, especially since US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia ran a hacking and propaganda operation to disrupt the American democratic process in 2016 to help then-candidate Trump become president. Among the targets was digital infrastructure used by 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Attempts by foreign adversaries to break into presidential campaigns are commonplace but the unusually public attribution offered by Google is a sign of how sensitive Americans have become to digital espionage efforts aimed at candidates.
“We are aware of reports from Google that a foreign actor has made unsuccessful attempts to access the personal email accounts of campaign staff,” a Biden campaign spokesman said. “We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them.”
The Trump campaign, the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Charming Kitten, the group identified by Google as being responsible for the targeting of the Trump campaign, has also recently hit the headlines over other exploits, including the targeting of the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc.
Earlier this year, Reuters tied the group to attempts to impersonate high-profile media figures and journalists.
John Hultquist, senior director of intelligence analysis with US cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc, described the two hacking groups as “espionage actors” and said they were likely attempting to collect intelligence rather than steal material to leak online.
The FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence both declined to comment.


Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

Updated 12 August 2020

Civilians, soldiers clash leaving 127 dead in South Sudan

  • The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers
  • An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but local youths subsequently mobilized for an attack on the army position

JUBA: Clashes between soldiers and civilians during a disarmament exercise in the central South Sudanese town of Tonj have left 127 dead, the army spokesman said Wednesday.
Major General Lul Ruai Koang told AFP that the fighting erupted on Saturday as security forces carried out an operation to disarm civilians in the area which has seen deadly inter-communal clashes.
More than six years after a civil war broke out in the country, and in the absence of a functioning government, many communities are flush with weapons, which they keep for protection or defense against cattle raids.
The violence in Tonj began after several armed youths got into a disagreement with soldiers. An initial armed confrontation was brought under control, but according to Koang the youths mobilized others for an attack on the army position.
“On the latest, the number of those killed, I can confirm to you that it rose to 127,” Koang said, adding that 45 of those killed were security forces and 82 were youths from the area.
A further 32 soldiers were injured.
Koang said two military officers involved in “triggering the clashes” had been arrested, and that the situation in Tonj had calmed down.
South Sudan is emerging from a six-year civil war that left 380,000 dead and millions displaced, and disarmament is a major stumbling block.
Experts have warned against operations that coerce people to lay down their guns without proper planning, as some communities could find themselves unable to protect themselves after their weapons are removed.
“The clashes should be an opportunity to rethink the approach to disarmament. What is the point of removing guns without addressing what drives folks to arms themselves?” Geoffrey Duke, head of the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms, said on Twitter.
“We can take guns away this week & they buy a new one next week (as) long as they still see the need to have (one).”