Nearly a year after Russian government hackers meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, researchers at cybersecurity firm Trend Micro zeroed in on a new sign of trouble: a group of suspect websites. The sites mimicked a portal used by U.S. senators and their staffs, with easy-to-miss discrepancies. Emails to Senate users urged them to reset their passwords — an apparent attempt to steal them. Once again, hackers on the outside of the American political system were probing for a way in. “Their attack methods continue to take advantage of human nature and when you get into an election cycle the targets are very public ,” said Mark Nunnikhoven, vice president of cloud research at Trend Micro. Now the U.S. has entered a new election cycle. And the attempt to infiltrate the Senate network, linked to hackers aligned with Russia and brought to public attention in July, is a reminder of the risks, and the difficulty of assessing them.
Newly reported attempts at infiltration and social media manipulation — which Moscow officially denies — point to Russia’s continued interest in meddling in U.S. politics. There is no clear evidence, experts said, of efforts by the Kremlin specifically designed to disrupt elections in November. But it wouldn’t take much to cause turmoil.
“It’s not a question of whether somebody is going to try to breach the system, to manipulate the system, to influence the system,” said Robby Mook, who managed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and co-directs a Harvard University project to protect democracy from cyberattacks, in an interview earlier this year. “The question is: Are we prepared for it?”