Obama May Unleash Cyberwar on Russia After Election: Report

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On Sunday, the New York Times published a seemingly routine report about Obama’s cyber offensive strategy. Hiding halfway down the page, however, there are some fascinating details about the decision-making process behind a potential US cyber retaliation against Russia.

Here’s the key paragraph from the Times:

After a series of debates in the Situation Room, Mr. Obama and his aides concluded that any public retaliation should be postponed until after the election — to avoid the appearance that politics influenced his decision and to avoid provoking Russian counterstrikes while voting is underway. It remains unclear whether Mr. Obama will act after Tuesday, as his aides hint, or leave the decision about a “proportional response” to his successor.

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Obama, obviously, is at least slightly annoyed with what seems like Russia trying to screw with the election by hacking and leaking emails from the Democratic National Commission and high ranking Clinton campaign staffers like campaign chair John Podesta. Russia has also reportedly probed some election security systems.

This is particularly interesting considering that anonymous US intelligence officials have been leaking dribs and drabs to their outlet of choice, NBC News, about how the US has infiltrated key pieces of Russian infrastructure. NBC reports:

US military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the US deem it necessary, according to a senior intelligence official and top-secret documents reviewed by NBC News.

There are clearly some mind games going on here. After all, feds wouldn’t just leak this to NBC because they felt like it. It’s one way to send a warning to Russia about the potential repercussions for any election day shenanigans, for one thing.

The Times also reports that the folks over at Dyn, who operate a part of one of the internet’s major systems, DNS, are prepping for a potential election day attack in wake of the massive DDoS attack that hit them a couple weeks ago. The DDoS attack on Dyn’s DNS servers was so severe that major parts of the internet were not accessible for most of Friday.

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After election day, the real question becomes how exactly will the US respond to to Russia’s election related malfeasance. What kind of attack constitutes a “proportional response” to Russia’s alleged hacking and leaking of emails? Could an attack on Russia simply escalate a a brewing cyber war?

One thing is for sure: Obama is making decisions in what are essentially uncharted waters.

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[The New York Times]

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William Turton

Staff Writer, Gizmodo | Send me tips: william.turton@gizmodo.com

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