Vice’s Motherboard reports John Podesta’s email was hacked after Podesta clicked on a phishing link sent to him by Russian hackers:
On March 19 of this year, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta received an alarming email that appeared to come from Google.
The email, however, didn’t come from the internet giant. It was actually an attempt to hack into his personal account. In fact, the message came from a group of hackers that security researchers, as well as the US government, believe are spies working for the Russian government. At the time, however, Podesta didn’t know any of this, and he clicked on the malicious link contained in the email, giving hackers access to his account.
As recently as last night, Donald Trump denied that Hillary Clinton knew who was responsible for the hacks of top Democrats including Podesta. However a story published today by Esquire explains how a mistake by the hackers led to information connecting them to thousands of individual phishing attacks:
The hackers’ gravest mistake involved the emails they’d used to initiate their attack. As part of a so-called spear-phishing campaign, Fancy Bear had emailed thousands of targets around the world. The emails were designed to trick their victims into clicking a link that would install malware or send them to a fake but familiar-looking login site to harvest their passwords. The malicious links were hidden behind short URLs of the sort often used on Twitter.
To manage so many short URLs, Fancy Bear had created an automated system that used a popular link-shortening service called Bitly. The spear-phishing emails worked well—one in seven victims revealed their passwords—but the hackers forgot to set two of their Bitly accounts to “private.” As a result, a cybersecurity company called SecureWorks was able to glean information about Fancy Bear’s targets. Between October 2015 and May 2016, the hacking group used nine thousand links to attack about four thousand Gmail accounts, including targets in Ukraine, the Baltics, the United States, China, and Iran. Fancy Bear tried to gain access to defense ministries, embassies, and military attachés. The largest group of targets, some 40 percent, were current and former military personnel. Among the group’s recent breaches were the German parliament, the Italian military, the Saudi foreign ministry, the email accounts of Philip Breedlove, Colin Powell, and John Podesta—Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman—and, of course, the DNC.
The Esquire story also mentions a number of other mistakes the Fancy Bear hackers made which indicate Russian involvement. The original SecureWorks report was published in June and is available here.