James R. Clapper: U.S. Intelligence Chief Says Foreign Governments Have Made Attempts To Hack Into The Websites And Campaign Networks Of Presidential Candidates

James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, revealed Wednesday at a cyber-event that cyber spies had been trying to hack into the websites of 2016 presidential campaigns. Clapper did not elaborate on whether the cyber intrusions were successful or if foreign or domestic hackers were to blame. He also provided little information to suggest whether it was the campaign networks or websites of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump or Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton that were targeted.

As ABC News reports, the nation’s intelligence chief believes the hackers are working for foreign governments by snooping around potential presidential candidates. Clapper said government officials are working with campaigns of all the candidates to tighten cyber security as the race for the presidency intensifies.

This development is the latest in a pattern that has characterized the last two U.S. elections. In 2008, U.S. intelligence officials revealed that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyber-terrorists. Despite the preparedness of both the Democrats and Republican candidates, experts are saying that the risk of an attack should not be taken for granted. “We’ve already had some indications, we’ll probably have more,” Clapper said.

This revelation comes on the heels of a document released by Clapper’s office when Obama assumed office, stating that the foreign intelligence tracking of the 2008 presidential cycle was unparalleled and unprecedented. The document was prepared in a slide show format to warn the incoming Obama administration that sensitive government jobs could be susceptible to foreign cyber attacks if not approached with caution.

Jonathan Lampe of Infosec, a private information security company based in Chicago, said cyber security had not improved much despite the scares. In October, Lampe said he assessed 16 websites of potential candidates for the U.S. elections and wrote a couple of reports about what he discovered.

He said by just using basic hacking skills, he was able to unearth full lists of user names; technologies used by the sites, and even discovered which directories could be accessed via the internet. He went on to say he discovered the software products the Clinton campaign team was using for job postings. “Everybody was sitting with their pants down and by the time we looked at the sites in March, everybody had made fixes,” Lampe said.

Lampe said despite the upgrades, foreign countries will continue to snoop around. He complained that the sites were vulnerable in October and any of these hackers who had grabbed information back then could use it to do some real damage right now. Some of these threats have presented themselves over the course of the presidential race.

A few weeks ago, a group of hackvists known as Anonymous declared cyberwar against Donald Trump, urging supporters to expose his private information and take down his website. A masked figure had appeared on YouTube saying that they had been watching him for awhile and found what he was doing in the quest to be president of the United States disturbing.

Experts say Trump is the biggest loser if the hackers get their way. John Dickson, a developer for a security software company based in San Antonio, said if the hackers can wriggle their way into Trump camp, his whole empire crumbles, unlike Sanders, who will just count the losses of a presidential campaign. Dickson says his money is on the Chinese or Iranians who have the intelligence capabilities and the motive to want to disrupt the U.S. elections.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]