The hacks were discovered about a month after Donald Trump’s dismissal of the country’s top cybersecurity official: Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was fired shortly after the election after publicly contradicting Trump’s widespread fact-free conspiracy claims on election fraud. It also comes after four years in which Donald Trump refused to condemn Russian aggression against the United States, no matter how obvious it might be – even if that aggression manifested itself as a bounty program that gave foreign fighters money for the assassination of US -Soldiers promised.
As a sign of the Russian government’s priorities, the series of hacks also reportedly targeted US oil and gas companies. As an oil-powered kleptocracy, Putin’s alliance of Russian oligarchs would benefit greatly from inside information about the status of key competitors.
Russian espionage efforts have only gotten smarter and bolder in recent years, and how to respond will be among the top national security priorities of the next government. The 2016 election campaigns went far beyond “normal” espionage, but were active measures designed to seriously damage democracy itself by introducing jokes, misinformation and corrupt negotiations with that nation’s own kleptocrats. Trump protected these efforts, and Trump’s allies ran a year-long campaign to discredit and punish US institutions that discovered and reported them.
We’ll likely never hear of retaliation aimed at responding to this latest piece of covert hacking because that’s how the game is played. However, a broader response to the aggressive attacks by Russia on this democracy and others around the world has yet to be formulated.