Hackers Shaking Down Pennsylvania Democrats and U.S. Progressive Groups

Computers are infected with ransomware and attackers seek Bitcoin payoffs. Signs again point to Russia.

Hackers are now reportedly targeting Democratic lawmakers and progressive organizations in the U.S. in an attempt to shake them down for hush money.

At least 12 progressive organizations have been targeted by Russian hackers who seek out embarrassing information on emails or secret details that could be used to hurt the organizations, Bloomberg has been told by two sources familiar with probes by private security companies and the FBI. The progressive organizations were also hit with ransomware, which seeks payment to unlock and restore data.

In addition, the computers of Pennsylvania’s Senate Democratic caucus were hacked last week and also infected by ransomware, according to The Associated Press. The Republican caucus’s computers were untouched. It’s unclear who was behind the hacking, but suspicions about Russian hackers were raised because only Democrats were hit. Ransom was demanded in digital Bitcoin, which is difficult to trace, to get a decryption key to unlock the system and data.

The Pennsylvania Senate cyberattack froze systems and data and shut out politicians and employees throughout Monday. The FBI and Pennsylvania attorney general have launched an investigation. A Democratic leader said that ransom would not be paid. The hackers had given politicians a deadline of a week or threatened that all data would be destroyed, AP reported.

It’s unclear if the hackers targeting the progressive organizations are the same ones the FBI believes targeted the Democratic National Committee during last year’s presidential campaign. But they have the same proclivities — and would likely have time on their hands since the presidential election. In addition, some techniques are the same as those used by Cozy Bear, one of the Russian government groups linked to cyberattacks during the U.S. campaign, according to Bloomberg. Some of the targeted liberal organizations paid the Bitcoin ransoms, ranging from $30,000 to $150,000, according to Bloomberg.

The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank, and Arabella Advisors, which steers investments to liberal causes, were among the targeted organizations, Bloomberg reported.

Arabella Advisors was affected by cyber crime,” a spokesman for the firm told Bloomberg. “All facts indicate this was financially motivated.’’ The Center for American Progress did not comment.

The Kremlin is now suspected of orchestrating cyberattacks to manipulate other elections, including in France and the Netherlands.

Norway revealed in January that hackers linked to Russia had attacked government ministry sites and the emails of the Labour Party in an operation strikingly similar to what happened in the U.S.