Mueller report says Russians gained access to one Florida county through spear phishing

The Mueller investigation into possible Russia – Trump campaign connection

Robert Mueller is special counsel for the Department of Justice. He oversees the investigation into Russia’s possible connections to the 2016 election and Trump campaign.

Robert Mueller is special counsel for the Department of Justice. He oversees the investigation into Russia’s possible connections to the 2016 election and Trump campaign.

Russian hackers gained access to at least one Florida county’s computer network during the 2016 campaign, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report released on Thursday.

Mueller’s report said the FBI concluded that the GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, sent spear phishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for overseeing the 2016 election. The emails contained an attached Word document that included malicious software that then gave the GRU access to the infected computer.

While the hacking attempts were previously reported, the spear phishing effort’s apparent success in at least Florida county was newly revealed on Thursday.

“We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government,” the report said. Mueller’s office “did not independently verify that belief.”

Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said he wasn’t aware that any county-level election systems were compromised in Florida though the Russians did try to target Florida through their election software vendor, VR Systems.

“It is not information that I am aware of,” Lux said in an interview Thursday. “Because the info I had or have currently…is…they were able to get into VR System enough to send the phishing email [but] that they didn’t access any sensitive systems beyond that. To my knowledge, no counties were compromised. So, my presumption is that. I don’t know which county would have been compromised, and that’s nothing I’ve ever heard of.”

The GRU gaining access to at least one Florida county’s election network could have been what former Sen. Bill Nelson was referring to during the 2018 campaign when he said Russian operatives have “penetrated” some county voter registration databases in Florida. A U.S. government official confirmed to the Miami Herald at the time that Nelson was right when he said the Russians gained access to some of Florida’s county-level voting systems.

Nelson’s Republican opponent, Sen. Rick Scott, repeatedly criticized Nelson for being careless with classified information.

But the report did not detail Nelson’s claim that Russians “now have free rein to move about” after gaining access to county-level voting systems. The same U.S. government official said that characterization by Nelson overstated the GRU threat to Florida’s election systems.

The report also said Trump, through social media, amplified pro-Trump rallies that were instigated by Russia, including in Florida.

For example, Trump on Facebook shared photos of an Aug. 20 “Trump Sign Waving Day” in Miami. The event concocted and organized by the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg, Russia, operation closely tied to Vladimir Putin.

“THANK YOU for your support Miami!” Trump posted.

A Russia-controlled online persona named “Matt Skiber” gushed online that Trump had promoted the event.

It also appears the campaign volunteered to promote the Florida rally in an email blast to its followers, the report said.

Mueller’s report concluded that neither Trump nor his campaign intentionally coordinated activities with Russia.

Social sharing of Russian accounts didn’t stop with Trump or official campaign Facebook page. His son, Donald Trump, Jr., on election night shared a falsified report of voter fraud in Florida. The made-up news was spread by a Twitter account @TEN_GOP. Investigators discovered that account was also linked to Russia.

“#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”