WASHINGTON – The FBI is investigating suspected attempts to hack mobile phones used by Democratic Party officials as recently as the past month, four people with direct knowledge of the attacks and the investigation told Reuters.
The revelation underscores the widening scope of the criminal inquiry into cyberattacks on Democratic Party organizations, including the presidential campaign of its candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
U.S. officials have said they believe those attacks were orchestrated by hackers backed by the Russian government, possibly to disrupt the Nov. 8 election, in which Clinton faces Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The recent attempted phone hacking also appears to have been conducted by Russian-backed hackers, two people with knowledge of the situation said.
An official of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) said nobody at the organization had been contacted by investigators about possible phone hacking.
FBI agents had approached a small number of Democratic Party officials to discuss concerns that their mobile phones may have been compromised by hackers, people involved said.
It was not clear how many people were targeted or whether they included members of Congress, a possibility that could raise additional security concerns for U.S. officials.
If the hackers were successful, they could have acquired a wide range of data including call data, text messages, emails, photos and contact lists, one person with knowledge of the situation said.
“In a sense, your phone is your office brain,” said Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert with Resilient, an IBM company, which is not involved in the investigation. “It’s incredibly intimate. Anything that’s on your phone, if your phone is hacked, the hacker can get it.”
The FBI has asked some of those whose phones were believed to have hacked to turn over their phones so that investigators could “image” them, creating a copy of the device and related data.
U.S. investigators are looking into whether hackers used data stolen from servers run by Democratic organizations or the private emails of their employees to get access to cell phones, one person said.
Hackers previously targeted servers used by the Democratic National Committee, the body that sets strategy for the party, and the DCCC, which raises money for Democrats running for seats in the House of Representatives, officials have said.
Clinton said during Monday’s presidential debate there was “no doubt” Russia has sponsored hacks against “all kinds of organizations in our country” and mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin by name.
“Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyberattackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee,” Clinton said.
Trump countered that there was no definitive proof that Russia had sponsored the hacks of Democratic organizations. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” he said. “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people.”
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