- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2018

Former congressional candidate Hans Keirstead said Wednesday that his Democratic campaign to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican and staunch defender of both President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, suffered a sustained and “sophisticated” cyberattack.

Mr. Keirstead’s work email account was breached last August, two months after declaring his candidacy, and his campaign’s website and Twitter account were subsequently targeted by repeated hacking attempts stretching into early 2018, Rolling Stone first reported, citing campaign emails and interviews.

The candidate’s work account was compromised after he opened a malicious “spear-phishing” email resembling a legitimate notice from Microsoft Office and unwittingly entered his log-in credentials, the magazine reported.

“They wanted full control of my email,” Mr. Kierstead said in an interview with CNN. “They were fairly sophisticated. Mimicking personalities in order to extract money and info. It was pretty amazing how sophisticated it was.”

Kyle Quinn-Quesada, Mr. Keirstead’s former campaign manager, alerted both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the FBI shortly after the candidate’s work email account was compromised last summer, and he eventually met with FBI agents in late January to discuss that attack and others, Rolling Stone reported.

In the interim, campaign officials discovered repeated attempts to breach the candidate’s Twitter account, as well as his campaign’s website and its hosting service, the report said. The FBI has since contacted Veracity Media, a digital consulting firm that assisted the campaign, and collected “reams of forensic data” about the attempts hacks, according to the report.

The FBI declined to comment, the reports said.

“We take cybersecurity extremely seriously and have taken extensive measures to protect our committee as well as Democratic campaigns across the country,” a DCCC aide said in a statement to CNN. “While we don’t have control over the operations of individual campaigns, we continue to work with and encourage candidates and their staffs to utilize the resources we have offered and adopt best cybersecurity practices.”

Months until the November 2018 midterm elections, revelations about the reported attacks suffered by Mr. Kierstead’s campaign emerged amid lingering concerns raised in the wake of the 2016 race being marred by a sophisticated, multi-pronged campaign allegedly mounted by Russian government hackers. Similar spear-phishing messages allowed Russian hackers to breach victims including the Democratic National Committee and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, according to U.S. officials, and pilfer material published during the 2016 election by the website WikiLeaks.

Mr. Kierstead, a neuroscientist, finished third in the 48th district’s June 5 primary and has since endorsed Democratic candidate Harley Rouda in the November midterm. Mr. Rouda hopes to unseat Mr. Rohrabacher, a 15-term incumbent whose defense of Russia has led detractors to dub him “Putin’s favorite congressman.”

Mr. Rohrabacher’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The congressman met last year with WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in London and previously said that he left the meeting convinced “that it wasn’t the Russians that hacked into the system.”

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