Just over a year ago, hackers targeted Dr. Hans Keirstead, a Democrat running against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “favorite congressman,” the Republican Dana Rohrabacher, with spear-phishing emails and more than 100,000 “brute-force attempts” to access the server that hosted Keirstead’s campaign website. Microsoft has since detected and blocked hacking attempts against three different congressional candidates, including Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who was targeted this year by the same Russian intelligence agency that hacked the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
The midterm elections, less than 60 days away, are as vulnerable to hackers who steal information and then dump it onto the web to influence voters as the presidential election was two years ago. Both parties face high stakes—Democrats hope to take back the House and the Senate, whereas Republicans are clinging to their majorities as a wave of GOP lawmakers chooses not to run for reelection. So far, however, only House Democrats have chosen to hold themselves publicly accountable for how they plan to handle any stolen documents—and any suspicious “foreign actors”—that come their way.
On Friday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pledged, among other things, not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall. Their Republican counterparts declined to match that commitment, pulling out of the pledge negotiations just days before the oath was finalized and shifting the blame to the Democrats—and to the press. “I will say we were close” to reaching an agreement, said a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) official familiar with the talks who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters about internal discussions. But “one of the major sticking points” was how to address the press coverage of hacked materials, the official added.