The Russian hacking saga

The story of alleged Russian hacking aimed at influencing the U.S. election has all the makings of a blockbuster film — computer hackers with goofy names, dueling presidents and accused spies. President Obama announced a series of sanctions against Russia on Thursday and Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he wouldn’t retaliate, at least not yet. But how did we get to this point?

Here’s our timeline of the saga:

September 2015

A special agent from the FBI calls the Democratic National Committee to inform them the FBI had identified a Russian-linked cyber-spy group in its network. The person who answered the call — a tech-support contractor — didn’t do much about the call because, he told The New York Times, he wasn’t sure whether it was real or a prank. The call was not made public until this month.

June 14, 2016

The Washington Post reports that the Russian government hackers were able to penetrate the DNC servers. The report says that opposition files on Republican nominee Donald Trump and email and chat exchanges were compromised. The Russian government denies the allegations.

July 22, 2016

Wikileaks releases private emails from DNC officials just days before the Democratic National Convention. The emails are from early 2016 and the primaries.

July 24, 2016

The night before the Democratic convention, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says she will step down as DNC chairwoman. The announcement follows the discovery of emails released in the Wikileaks trove that showed DNC staffers favoring former secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, despite the fact they were not supposed to pick favorites in the primary.

July 27, 2016

Members of Clinton’s campaign had been accusing Russia of the hack of DNC emails. During a press conference, Trump says it probably wasn’t Russia. But if it was, he says, “I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” That was a reference to emails Clinton deemed personal and deleted from her private server before turning over official emails to the State Department. Critics accuse Trump of calling for a foreign government to hack an American.

Sept. 26, 2016

During the first general election debate, Clinton brings up the hacking. Trump continues to express skepticism that Russia was behind it.

“I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” he says.

Oct. 7, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security and Office of Director of National Intelligence say they are “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations” and that the goal was to “interfere with the US election process.” This is the first time the government weighs in on the hacks.

That same day, Wikileaks releases the first chunk of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account. The emails will continue to trickle out for weeks.

Nov. 8, 2016

Trump elected president in a stunning upset.

Dec. 9, 2016

Obama orders a full review of foreign government attempts to sway U.S. elections. But, the White House says, the review is “not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election.”

The Washington Post also reports that the CIA believes Russia hacked the election in an attempt to help Trump win on Election Day. Trump breaks with intelligence officials in his response: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”

Dec. 12, 2016

Republican lawmakers announce that congressional committees will also investigate the allegations made by the CIA.

Dec. 16, 2016

In a press conference, Obama says that the hacks were initiated by the “highest levels of the Russian government.” Obama suggests he will retaliate but doesn’t specify how. He also attempts to clarify the type of hacking that he believes was done by Russia — it was the hacking of emails, not voting machines, he says.

Dec. 28, 2016

On reports of impending sanctions, Trump tells reporters, “I think we ought to get on with our lives.”

Dec. 29, 2016

Obama announces sanctions against Russian officials, including expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the closing of Russian compounds in Maryland and New York on suspicion they were used for intelligence gathering.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama says in a statement.

Trump seems unimpressed. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” the president-elect responds, hours after the announcement.

The Russian government vows retaliation.

Dec. 30, 2016

Putin makes the surprise announcement that he won’t kick U.S. diplomats out of Russia.

“We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats,” Putin says in a statement. “We will not expel anybody.” He even goes a step further and invites children of these diplomats to his New Year’s Eve party in the Kremlin.


Ramin sarajari’s Comment

The latest news on Russian hacking has brought some major concern in the political world.  We all hear about various email sites that have been hacked and perhaps it has jeopardized our security such as financial or personal private matters.  The fact is that we must know the internet and computer world is changing on a daily basis.  Technology is developing for good of the mankind.  But at times we have some people who take advantages of such technologies.  Among these groups are some who use the technology to either have a financial gain or just show how smart they are.  This is a norm in the USA as some low life individuals have been using the private information of some misfortune people to exploit them.  This is done by some computer game players who find this sort of work exciting.  So it is important to remember that once you have any information on the web, you can basically be a target for someone or some group.

Regarding computer hacking. the first thing the hacker does after targeting a system is to learn more and more about it, scanning it for vulnerabilities and loopholes that can be exploited the way one wishes to. This requires extensive knowledge about the target system. It’s nothing like the Hollywood movies where the hacker guesses or brute-forces a password. In reality, very few hackers bother. Most people bypass passwords and aim directly for the database. That’s why you read news like 100k accounts were compromised and the likes.

Now about Anti-Virus Software. They are a powerful piece of software that uses a considerable amount of computer resources which meticulously keeps scanning the computer for any suspicious activity that matches with its regularly updated database to identify any threat. The moment it identifies such a program, it isolates the program and keeps it from causing any further damage. Big thick books can be written about any anti-virus software being the complex piece of software that they are.

There’s no such thing as “Anti-Hacker”. Countering hackers are just some other hackers working for/employed by the targeted organization/company/individual. Some hackers are regularly employed by companies for auditing the security of their network and subsequently fixing it.

Passwords and PIN etc are just a random combination of alpha-numerics including :

  • numbers (10 different ones: 0-9)
  • letters (52 different ones: A-Z and a-z)
  • special characters (32 different ones).

The number of different combinations can be calculated with the following formula:

Different combinations = number of possible characters^ password length

Using this formula, a password which consists of 5 characters (3 lower case letters, 2 numbers) will result into 36^5= 60,466,176 possible combinations. Similarly 12 characters (3 upper case letters, 4 lower case letters, 3 special characters, 2 numbers) will result into 94^12= 475,920,314,814,253,376,475,136 possible combinations. Brute forcing such a password would require 475,920,314,814,253,376,475,136 /
2,000,000,000 = 237,960,157,407,127 seconds = approx, 7,5 million years if we are calculating 2 billion keys per second. For a 5 character password, it will be about 60,466,176 / 2,000,000,000 = 0.03 seconds.

But however long your password is, it isn’t of any use if you write it up in plain text and send it on the internet. Here comes cryptography. Most websites use 128-bit or 256-bit encryption for the passwords and other sensitive data on the internet which further secures the possibility of a password theft over internet and renders it unreadable. For added security, the passwords are run through a hash function before saving into databases, so your password isn’t saved as plain-text but as hashes. So even if a database is compromised, the hacker must again crack the hash to actually see what the password is. This is the reason most hackers keep from getting into hacking passwords and try to gain access using other methods and hence online banking is considered safe.

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