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AP
Thousands of emails stolen from Republican committee's aides

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of emails were stolen from aides to the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2018 midterm campaign, a major breach exposing vulnerabilities that have kept cybersecurity experts on edge since the 2016 presidential race.

The email accounts were compromised during a series of intrusions that had been spread over several months and discovered in April, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. At least four party aides had their emails surveilled by hackers, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the details publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The committee said an "unknown entity" was behind the hack but provided few other details. A cybersecurity firm and the FBI have been investigating the matter, the committee said. The FBI declined to comment.

Politically motivated cyberespionage is commonplace across the world, but Americans have become particularly alert to the possibility of digital interference since Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. The theft of Democrats' emails is still fresh in the minds of many political operatives and lawmakers, who have stepped up defensive measures but still struggle to protect themselves.

Foreign spies routinely try to hack into politicians' emails to gain insight, ferret out weaknesses and win a diplomatic edge. But hackers often launch sweeping spear-phishing campaigns to gain access to a variety accounts — with no political motivation. With no immediate suspects and few technical details, it's unclear what the significance of this latest incursion is.

In August, the Democratic National Committee thought it had thwarted an attempt to break into its massive voter database — but the effort turned out to be unauthorized test that mimicked what an attack would look like.

CrowdStrike, a California-based cybersecurity company, said Tuesday the NRCC asked the company in April to "perform an investigation related to unauthorized access" to the committee's emails. Before that, the company had been helping the committee protect its internal corporate network, which wasn't compromised.

"The cybersecurity of the committee's data is paramount, and upon learning of the intrusion, the NRCC immediately launched an internal investigation and notified the FBI, which is now investigating the matter," the committee said in a statement. The hack was first reported by Politico.

Earlier this year, NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers said the committee — which raises money to support Republican candidates for the House — hired multiple cybersecurity staffers to work with its candidates and promised to do more.

"We're starting to advise campaigns, but we're not ready to roll the whole thing out. We're working on it," Stivers said in March. "We're working on the technology-based stuff to try and make sure that we know what's out there — which is hard, too — and then we try to defend against it the best we can."

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russian state-aligned hackers organized the leak of more than 150,000 emails stolen from more than a dozen Democrats. The FBI later said that the Russians had targeted more than 300 people affiliated with the Hillary Clinton campaign and other Democratic institutions over the course of the presidential contest.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating the whether people close to Donald Trump's presidential campaign had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans.

U.S. officials have expressed concern about foreign interference in U.S. elections. This weekend, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russia of trying to "muck around" in the November midterm elections. Mattis did not offer specifics and would not elaborate.

In October, the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges detailing a yearslong effort by a Russian troll farm to "sow division and discord in the U.S. political system" by creating thousands of false social media profiles and email accounts that appeared to be from people inside the United States. The complaint provided a clear picture that there is still a hidden but powerful Russian social media effort aimed at spreading distrust for American political candidates and causing divisions on social issues such as immigration and gun control.

The campaign season saw several examples of digital mischief, although none with the impact of the 2016 hacks.

In August, Microsoft alerted the public to attempts by government-backed Russian hackers to target U.S. conservatives' email by creating fake websites that appeared to belong to a pair of think tanks, the Hudson Institute and International Republican Institute. It also confirmed an attempt similarly attributed to Russian hackers to infiltrate the Senate computer network of Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who lost a re-election bid in November.

Google later confirmed in September that the personal Gmail accounts of multiple senators and staffers had recently been targeted by foreign hackers, though it did not specify the cyberspies' nationality nor the party affiliations of the targets.


AP
Christmas turkey, fruitcake rocketing toward space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Christmas turkey rocketed toward the International Space Station on Wednesday, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake.

The SpaceX booster rocket missed its landing zone on the ground, however, and fell into the sea, just offshore.

Groans filled SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, as live video showed the first-stage booster spinning out of control, still high above Cape Canaveral. It was the company's first missed ground landing, although it has overshot floating barges plenty of times in the past, a tougher feat to pull off.

A SpaceX commentator called it a "bummer," but noted it was secondary to the Falcon 9 rocket's main mission of getting the Dragon capsule to orbit.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the booster appeared to be undamaged. The hydraulic pump for the landing fins apparently stalled, but the engines stabilized the approximately 160-foot-tall booster just in time, allowing for "an intact landing," Musk noted via Twitter. "Ships en route to rescue Falcon," he tweeted.

SpaceX's 12 previous ground landings — dating back to 2015 — all were successful.

The disappointment was offset by the successful flight of the Dragon capsule and its 5,600 pounds (2,500 kilograms) of cargo. It should reach the space station Saturday.

"What a great day for a launch," said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana. Twenty years ago this week, Cabana commanded the shuttle mission that carried up the first U.S. part of the space station .

Besides smoked turkey breast and all the other fixings for Christmas dinner, the delivery includes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for aging and muscle studies.

Researchers expect a tenfold increase in the worm population. There will be plenty of room on board for all the tiny nematodes. It turns out their muscles are similar to ours in structure and function, making them perfect lab substitutes, said lead scientist Timothy Etheridge of the University of Exeter in England.

The launch was delayed a day when NASA discovered that the food for the mouse-tronauts was moldy because of contamination. More food had to be rushed in from California.

Just two days earlier, three astronauts arrived at the space station to join the three already there. The crew includes two Americans, two Russians, one German and one Canadian. The newest residents will remain on board for six months, while the others will return to Earth on Dec. 20.

SpaceX has been making station deliveries for NASA since 2012. The private company expects to start launching station crews next year.