Dana Watch: Hack Attack

Illustration by Bob Aul

For months, polls showed Dr. Hans Keirstead was the candidate to beat in June’s 48th Congressional District primary race, and he was indeed the top Democrat during much of the final vote count. Alas, the stem-cell scientist wound up 125 votes short of fellow Democrat Harley Rouda, who faces incumbent Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Putin’s Voting Booth Fluffer) in the November general election.

Now come reports that the Keirstead campaign withstood a successful cyberattack that was followed by thousands of unsuccessful hacks—as well as an FBI investigation. The FBI is not confirming the probe, but reporter Andy Kroll writes in an Aug. 15 Rolling Stone story that the investigation was confirmed after the review of dozens of emails and forensic records.

The Keirstead hacks began in August 2017, when the candidate entered his work email password into a fake message that appeared to be a legitimate Microsoft Office communication. He quickly realized the message was phony and had his company take measures to secure its email system.

Thousands of attempts by bots or hackers to get inside the Keirstead for Congress website, the hosting company’s server and the campaign’s Twitter account began in December, although none was effective.

Kyle Quinn-Quesada, who was the candidate’s campaign manager, contacted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which in turn informed the FBI. Quinn-Quesada says the FBI contacted him in January and the campaign website’s hosting company shortly thereafter. “It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique but have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018,” Quinn-Quesada told Kroll.

Experts say that without the aid of law enforcement or high-priced security firms, it is impossible to tell whether hackers are affiliated with a nation-state, organized crime or hacktivists pushing a cause.

But keep in mind that: President Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned last month that cyberattacks aimed at the U.S. are “blinking red”; the Daily Beast reported the Russian intelligence agency responsible for the hacks during the 2016 presidential race recently attempted to infiltrate the office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri); and a senior Microsoft executive revealed the company identified and helped to block hacking attempts aimed at three 2018 midterm congressional candidates. (Citing “customer privacy,” Microsoft refused to disclose whether Keirstead was one of them.)

The top vote-getter in the 48th district primary was Rohrabacher, who has been labeled “Putin’s favorite congressman” for his steadfast support of the brutal Russian regime and direct warnings from the FBI that Russian intelligence was grooming him to be an asset. The Surfin’ Congressman claims to hold proof that Russia is not behind the 2016 cyberattacks.

Got Dana Watch fodder? Email mcoker@ocweekly.com.

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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