A Democratic congressional candidate in Alabama is claiming that Russians attempted to hack her campaign’s website

Tabitha Isner, the Democratic candidate running in Alabama's 2nd congressional district, claims Russians attempted to hack her campaign website.

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Tabitha Isner, the Democratic candidate running in Alabama’s 2nd congressional district, claims Russians attempted to hack her campaign website.
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Tabitha Isner

  • Tabitha Isner, the Democratic candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, claims Russians attempted to hack her campaign’s website in mid-July.
  • Isner said there were over 1,400 attempts to break into to her website and approximately 1,100 could be traced back to Russia.
  • The majority of the hacking attempts occurred on July 17 and 18, according to traffic logs reviewed by Business Insider.
  • Isner feels strongly that candidates aren’t being given enough help and guidance in terms of dealing with the evolving technological challenges of running for office, and is calling on Congress to do more in that regard.

Tabitha Isner, the Democratic candidate running in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District in this year’s midterm elections, claims Russians attempted to hack her campaign’s website in mid-July and that she has received little assistance from law enforcement – and even her own party – in the aftermath.

In a recent phone call with Business Insider, Isner said there were over 1,400 attempts to break into to her website, and that approximately 1,100 could be traced back to Russia.

Isner, an ordained minister with a background in public policy, said she first became aware of the attempted hacks when the web hosting company she uses alerted her of a huge spike in traffic, recommending she upgrade to a more advanced hosting service so her website wouldn’t crash.

“I was pretty surprised by that because I had bought enough bandwidth, enough hosting power, that it shouldn’t be an issue,” Isner said. “I knew something was up and I had my web administrator go look into it.”

Kristopher Vilamaa, the Isner campaign web administrator, took a look at the traffic logs and found that a large number of Russian IP addresses had been blocked. There were also apparent attempts to break into the website from Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

“Many, if not most, of the visits from Russian IPs that got blocked were trying to access the login page that gets you into the backend of the website,” Vilamaa told Business Insider via email.

The majority of the hacking attempts occurred on July 17 and 18, according to traffic logs reviewed by Business Insider.

‘I was disappointed in the lack of attention it was given’

None of the attempted break-ins were successful, and Isner said her campaign has not been compromised, though she has taken steps to update her website’s security in the meantime.

Isner also contacted the FBI’s field office in Mobile, Alabama regarding what occurred, but said they weren’t much help.

“I spent a lot of time on hold. I got transferred to a variety of different people,” Isner said of her phone call to the FBI.

Eventually, Isner said she had a more in-depth conversation with a female agent about the hacking attempts. But Isner said toward the end of the discussion the agent told her she “doesn’t know a whole lot about this kind of thing.”

“I was disappointed in the lack of attention it was given,” Isner said, adding that she hasn’t heard from anyone at the FBI since she contacted the Mobile office on July 19.

Tommy Loftis, a spokesman for the FBI’s office in Mobile, told Business Insider via phone he could “never confirm or deny the existence of an investigation” when questioned about Isner’s claims and asked whether the bureau is looking into them. Loftis also could not provide the name of the agent Isner said she spoke with.

‘I doubt I’m the only one and I wonder what other campaigns aren’t paying attention’

Since Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election, the US intelligence community has repeatedly warned that the Kremlin is planning future attacks on America’s electoral system, including the 2018 midterms.

In late July, Facebook deleted a number of accounts after discovering signs of potential Russian meddling in the midterms. There are also signs Russia’s intelligence service has attempted to undermine the campaigns of top Democratic figures in Congress, including Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, one of the most outspoken critics of Russia, recently said hackers targeted her office as well.

Isner isn’t entirely sure why her campaign may have been targeted, though she suspects it’s linked to the fact that her race against incumbent Republican Rep. Martha Roby is becoming increasingly competitive.

Roby recently told the Montgomery Advertiser she’d seen no signs of suspicious activity on her website.

Isner also noted that attempts at election interference seem to be a growing trend in her state, pointing to the fact Facebook in March said they’d discovered evidence that accounts in Macedonia attempted to meddle in the heated special election in Alabama between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones last year.

Isner feels strongly that candidates aren’t being given enough help and guidance in terms of dealing with the evolving technological challenges of running for office and is calling on Congress to do more in that regard.

“My website is not the end of the world, it’s not the most important thing in this democracy, obviously,” Isner said. “My broader concern is I doubt I’m the only one [being targeted by hackers] and I wonder what other campaigns aren’t paying attention.”

She believes Congress should implement legislation aimed at providing funding for cybersecurity resources for candidates.

‘I worry that there this no support’

“I worry that there this no support,” Isner said.

“When you run for office, nobody shows up with the basics in a jar,” she added. “I have never done something like this before. I am independently responsible for maintaining the security of my campaign. In general, it would be great if there were more resources available for candidates.”

Isner also said the Democratic Party, at both the state and national level, has not been particularly helpful in terms of providing information and resources to candidates to help thwart hacking attempts and other technological challenges.

“I think candidates are left to their own devices. We get very little help, either from the state or national party,” Isner said. “I think that’s not understood very well. … Just how much candidates are own their own and how vulnerable that makes us.”

‘It seems like a partisan approach is being taken here’

Isner said she’s “very concerned that it seems like a partisan approach is being taken here, where there’s not concern about Russian interference as long as it’s to benefit Republicans.”

Correspondingly, Isner said she “laughed out loud” at President Donald Trump’s recent tweet in which he claimed he’s concerned Russia will attempt to interfere in the midterm elections to help Democrats.

The US intelligence community’s report on Russian election interference stated that the Kremlin aimed to increase Trump’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he’d hoped Trump would win the election as the two world leaders spoke at a joint press conference after they met in Helsinki, Finland in July.

In this context, Trump’s claim Russia will attempt to help Democrats is “another example of the president lying and misleading people about the reality of threats to the nation,” Isner said.