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Advisors: Trump Now Accepts that Russia Hacked the Election

In a major reversal of rhetoric, top advisors now say that Donald Trump no longer denies that Russia orchestrated the cyber-attack against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

In an appearance over the weekend on FOX News Sunday, Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said that the president-elect “is not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular hacking campaign.”

He added, “I think he accepts the findings,” Priebus said.

Top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway meanwhile told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that the president-elect believes “Russia, China and others have attempted to attack different government institutions and businesses and individuals and organizations over a series of time.”

On Friday, Trump was briefed by officials from the FBI, CIA and NSA on a classified report on Russian interference in the election. Leading up to that briefing, he and his surrogates have repeatedly dismissed the allegations that Russia was behind the attacks, and continually cast doubt on American intelligence capabilities in general, citing the wrong WMD allegations that led to the Iraq War. At the same time, and in stark contrast to the attitudes of GOP leaders, Trump supporters have embraced Russia as a new ally.

And indeed, Trump may accept that the Russians engaged in hacking to affect the outcome of the election, but there is no word on whether he now accepts the conclusion that the Russian president and former KGB head Vladimir Putin personally ordered the hacks in order to assist the Republican’s campaign.

Also seeming to hedge bets, Priebus spun the situation in such a way as to downplay the election interference as anything to be concerned about.

“When this whole thing started, it started from the Russians 50 years ago, in other words this is something that has been going on in our elections for many, many years,” Priebus told FOX News. “It happens every election period.”

Conway too was dismissive of the ramifications of Russian interference: “We didn’t need WikiLeaks to convince the American people that they didn’t like [Clinton], didn’t trust her, didn’t find her to be honest. She started it.”

Some mainstream Republicans took a more patriotic tone, including Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told NBC’s Meet the Press that they believe the hacks represent a dangerous precedent for the legitimacy of future elections. Both called for Russia to be held accountable, including new sanctions on the country.

“We should all, Republicans, Democrats, condemn Russia for what they did,” Graham said. “Most Republicans are condemning what Russia did. And to those who are gleeful about it, you’re a political hack. You’re not a Republican. You’re not a patriot.’”

He added: “You can’t go on with your life as a democracy when a foreign entity is trying to compromise the election process.”

McCain took a similar tone. “The Russians intended to affect the outcome of this election,” he said. “And if they were able to succeed doing that, then you destroy democracies. Because you destroy the fundamental which is free and fair election.”

Despite the Syrian humanitarian crisis and the ongoing concern over Russia’s Ukrainian designs, Trump’s championing of the country has had a profound effect: 37% of Republicans viewed Putin favorably as of December, according to a poll conducted by the Economist and YouGov. To put that in perspective, back in July 2014 just 10 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Putin. Overall, while Putin still has a net un-favorability rating among Republicans, his standing has improved dramatically—from a net negative of 66 points to just 10 points as of December.

President Obama told ABC on Sunday that the phenomenon of Trump supporters aligning themselves with Putin rather than showing solidarity with fellow Americans is concerning.

“We have to remind ourselves we’re on the same team,” he said. “Vladimir Putin’s not on our team.”

Also of great concern is the apparent ease with which the hacks were carried out. Oren Aspir, CTO for Cyberbit, told Infosecurity that the report—some of which was also made public on Friday—indicated a disturbing lack of security awareness.

“The report and intel chiefs' testimonial didn't reveal any new malware types or attack techniques,” he said. “Additionally, two of the APTs mentioned in the report relied mainly on traditional spear phishing. APT 29 used the email to send people to a malicious URL and the APT 28, lured people to enter credentials on a fake website. The report and the intel chiefs' testimonial raised serious concerns about the sophistication of cybersecurity in the nation's most sensitive organizations across government, critical infrastructure and private corporations.”

Worse, he said that the mitigation strategies in the document are outdated approaches that have failed.

“The FBI and DHS suggested the same old mitigation steps that are familiar to any IT manager or security professional, such as updating application and OS patches, whitelisting applications, restricting administrative privileges, network segmentation and segregation into security zones, as well as input validation and configuring firewall to block data from unapproved IPs,” he said. “One of the biggest flaws in the report is the prevention mindset. Organizations should shift focus from prevention to detection and response. As we’ve seen, 2016 provided definitive proof that the cyber battlefield is heating up and every sector is likely to be targeted. National targets such and private commercial entities will need to move beyond deeply ingrained prevention-based approaches outlined in the JAR report, and adopt advanced detection technologies and response capabilities.”

Regardless of the internal failings that allowed the hacks to occur, the ramifications are still clear and should be dealt with, according to Joseph Carson, head of global strategic alliances at Thycotic.

"While this hack could have been done by a 14-year-old, as quoted by Julian Assange, this hack was done with the intent to influence the US presidential election, which is not the typical intention of a 14-year-old hacker,” he told us.

Photo © Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock.com

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