Though sporadic hacker intrusions and phishing campaigns targeted political entities in the lead-up to November’s midterm elections, things seemed pretty quiet overall on the election-meddling front in the US. Certainly no leaks or theatrics rose to the level of Russia’s actions during the 2016 presidential election. But a belatedly revealed breach of the National Republican Congressional Committee shows just how bad the attack on the 2018 election really was. As Politico first reported Tuesday, attackers compromised the email accounts of four top NRCC aides, surveilling their correspondences—totaling thousands of messages—for months. The NRCC discovered the intrusion in April, and has been investigating it since. The Committee kept the incident quiet, though, and didn’t even inform Republican House leaders. NRCC officials told Politico that the stolen data hasn’t surfaced, and that no breach-related extortion attempts have targeted the NRCC so far.
“The NRCC can confirm that it was the victim of a cyber intrusion by an unknown entity,” spokesperson Ian Prior wrote in a statement. Prior, a former Department of Justice public affairs officer who now works for the bipartisan strategy firm Mercury, has consulted NRCC on the incident. “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.” Prior said the NRCC is declining to answer additional questions because of the ongoing investigation.
A few election-related hacking incidents were publicly known leading up the midterms, including some attempted spearphishing attacks against campaigns. But from the outside, those attempts appeared largely unsuccessful, seemingly because political organizations shored up their digital security after the wakeup call of 2016. But the major NRCC breach is a reminder that what’s publicly known doesn’t represent the full picture.