Mueller report details how Russia interfered with 2016 presidential election

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report shows Russian operatives posing as Americans created fake social media accounts to post pro-Trump propaganda that was viewed and shared by millions of Americans, including affiliates of the Trump Campaign.

According to the report, the Russian government operatives created thousands of social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumbler, and Instagram. The Russian-generated propaganda reached some 126 million people on Facebook alone. 

On Friday, the U.S. Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo issued a warning to Russia.

"We will make very clear to them that this is unacceptable behavior and as you have seen from this administration, we will take tough actions which raise the costs for Russian malign activity," said Pompeo.

The Mueller report also included details of how Russian government operatives used spearfishing techniques to hack into the computers of the Clinton Campaign starting in March 2016. The Russian operatives were also able to hack into the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer networks. Initial attacks in March 2016 involved spearfishing techniques targeting work, personal and Google email accounts by Clinton Campaign employees.

"Whenever you see one of those emails that gets through your spam filter that says 'hey I've got an exciting deal for you, just click on this link,' that's a fishing attack," said Danny O'Brien, International Director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy and free speech advocacy nonprofit based in San Francisco.

The Mueller report says Russian hackers were able to install two types of customized malicious software or malware programs on dozens of Democratic Party computers, gaining inside access and stealing hundreds of thousands of documents.

O'Brien says although anti-virus software is usually a last defense to identify common malware programs, foreign states or well-funded operatives might develop their own malware that is harder to detect. Once installed in a victim's computer, O'Brien says malware can give hackers open access to a victim's digital devices.

"It could read you passwords, see what you're typing, turn on your camera, record audio, even plant evidence," said O'Brien.

The Mueller report states the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency or IRA also used thousands of fake social media accounts to draw in real Americans to re-post the IRA-generated propaganda. The IRA was even able to cross over from digital platforms into real rallies attended by and sometimes coordinated with American citizens. Russian operatives used social media to orchestrate  a "confederate rally" as early as November 2015, according to p.29 of the report. 

Russians also orchestrated Pro-Trump events in New York, Florida and Pennsylvania. The Mueller report states "The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump's Facebook account."

Then candidate Trump responded directly to one Russian-controlled account @10_gop after the Miami rally. 

The Mueller Report says "Posts from IRA-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP were cited or retweeted by multiple Trump Campaign officials and surrogates, including Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Michael T. Flynn. These posts included allegations of voter fraud, as well as allegations that Secretary Clinton had mishandled classified information." 

The report also lists on page 28 that numerous "high-profile U.S. persons, including former Ambassador Michael McFaul, Roger Stone, Sean Hannity, and Michael Flynn Jr., retweeted or responded to tweets posted to these IRA-controlled accounts," actions that magnifying and increased the reach of those Russian accounts.

O'Brien says all Americans should learn a lesson from the Mueller's report.

"It doesn't matter if the top people are taking precautions if the intern that you brought in was clicking on the same link. Because their laptop probably has access to the same kind of secrets as you do," O'Brien said. 

Russian military operatives also "hacked computers belonging to state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of U.S. elections" according to page 37 of the Mueller report.

O'Brien says a big danger in future elections, is that hackers don't even need to access voting systems.

Much more insidious, is if malicious hackers are able to create chaos by undermining the very foundation of the nation's democracy...American citizens' trust in the election process.

"They weren't trying to necessarily tip the election by creating a million fake votes," said O'Brien, "Hostile actors can inject an element of doubt into what the result is and when you have a tight election with a very polarized public, that can be as damaging as switching the result."