Election Meddling Isn't Over: Here's Most Likely Its Latest Victim

As the midterm elections draw near and Russia continues its efforts to meddle in American politics, evidence suggests a foreign adversary may also be to blame for the latest cyberattack against a former Democratic opponent of Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California.

FBI agents in California and Washington, D.C., have investigated a series of cyberattacks against Dr. Hans Keirstead, a 2018 Democratic candidate who ran against Rohrabacher, according to dozens of emails and forensic records obtained by Rolling Stone.

Keirstead, a stem cell expert and CEO of AVITA Biomedical, failed to place top two in the state's June 5 primary in order to advance to the general election. Rohrabacher, the incumbent, won with a hefty margin over Democratic challenger Harley Rouda, who only beat Keirstead by a mere 125 votes.

The hacks against Keirstead's campaign began in August 2017 as spear-phishing attempt designed to infiltrate his email by sending him a fake Microsoft Office email requesting he enter his password. The attack was similar to the Russian phishing attack against former Democratic National Committee Chairman John Podesta and his emails in March 2016.

A few months later in December, campaign officials reportedly experienced cyberattacks against Keirstead's campaign website. Hackers tried for more than two and a half months, including over 130,000 failed attempts, to hack into the website and its cloud-server company.

Kyle Quinn-Quesada, Keirstead's former campaign manager, told Rolling Stone that although the campaign does not believe the attacks had an impact on the primary election results, they still want the public to aware of the ongoing issue in American elections.

"It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique but have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018," Quinn-Quesada said.

Once the campaign learned about the August cyberattack, Quinn-Quesada alerted both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the FBI. After the second round of persistent cyberattacks, the FBI made contact with the campaign and met with Quinn-Quesada in January of this year.

While the FBI reportedly took the claim seriously and investigated it, Quinn-Quesada said the federal agency never informed him or anyone else on the campaign about who was behind the attacks. But the attack is similar to other Russian cyberattacks, including an attempt to infiltrate Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill's 2018 re-election campaign, reported by The Daily Beast just weeks ago.

Keirstead's incumbent opponent, Rohrabacher, is well-known for his pro-Russia stance, once claiming he lost to Russian President Vladimir Putin in an arm wrestle in the 1990s. The FBI warned Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian spies were attempting to recruit him as an "agent of influence," a Washington ally they could count on to act in the Kremlin's best interest. In stark contrast to many of his Republican colleagues, Rohrabacher refused to condemn President Donald Trump's failure to confront Putin over election meddling at their July Helsinki summit. He was also among the few to vote against Russian sanctions following Russia's invasion of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine until it was annexed by Putin's military forces in 2014.

When asked for comment by Newsweek on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Rohrabacher's office said they "don't expect we will have anything" to comment about the cyberattacks against his former opponent.

Election Meddling Isn't Over: Here's Most Likely Its Latest Victim | U.S.