An October 8 Associated Press report, titled “Clinton Server Hack Attempts Came From China, Korea, Germany” outlined how “at least five cyberattack tries were apparently blocked by a 'threat monitoring' product that was connected to her network in October 2013.” Fox News immediately began using the AP report to support spurious claims regarding Hillary Clinton's email server, but a Washington Post reporter recently explained that failed hacking attempts such as these are a routine occurrence online.
Associated Press Reports Hillary Clinton's Private Email Server “Repeatedly Hit By Attempted Cyberattacks”
AP: Clinton Server Hack Attempts Came From China, Korea, Germany. In an October 8 article, the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton's private email server “was repeatedly hit by attempted cyberattacks originating in China, South Korea and Germany in 2014.” The AP report noted that “It was not immediately clear whether the attempted intrusions into Clinton's server were serious espionage threats or the sort of nuisance attacks that hit computer servers the world over,” hypothesizing that "[a]ny hackers who got access to her server in 2013 or 2014 could have stolen a trove of sensitive email traffic involving the foreign relations of the United States." [Associated Press, 10/8/15]
Washington Post Explains How Ominous AP Report Is Based On Alarmism And “Technological Ignorance”
Washington Post: According To Expert, “The [AP] Story Is Much Less Alarming.” An October 9 article by Philip Bump of The Washington Post explained how alarmism surrounding the Associated Press' latest report can be derived from how "[p]eople don't really understand how the internet works, and so the stories might sound more ominous than they otherwise would." Bump cites WCA Technologies President Pete Fidler, to explain that “the story is much less alarming,” considering Fidler's statement that "'It's not unusual at all' that there would be attempts to hack into her server" (emphasis added):
The personal e-mail server that Hillary Rodham Clinton used was repeatedly subject to hacking attempts from users in China, South Korea and Germany in 2014, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Which seems as though it confirms some of the worst fears of Clinton's detractors: an insecure system, with foreign agents peeking in.
But to Peter Fidler, president of the tech firm WCA Technologies in New York, the story is much less alarming.
“It's not unusual at all” that there would be attempts to hack into her server, Fidler said when we spoke with him by phone on Thursday. “Basically what it means -- a hacking attempt [is] they'll try to log in as admin, sysadmin, administrator ... they'll try many different types of names and not give up. We used to see that a lot. We would capture all these things and then block entire countries.”
In other words, that someone from China tried to hack into Clinton's server doesn't mean 1) that they were targeting Clinton specifically, 2) that they were agents of the Chinese government, or 3) that they were actually able to access information.
It's complicated to explain, but not in itself unusual, as Fidler indicated. (The AP article itself notes that "[i]t was not immediately clear whether the attempted intrusions into Clinton's server were serious espionage threats or the sort of nuisance attacks that hit computer servers the world over.")
But the story reinforced one of the challenges that Clinton faces as the e-mail server story continues to slowly unfold: People don't really understand how the Internet works, and so the stories might sound more ominous than they otherwise would.
When the most recent batch of e-mails released by Clinton became public at the end of last month, people noticed apparent “phishing” attempts mixed into the files. The AP reported that “Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Hillary Rodham Clinton's private e-mail account.” Included with the story was an example, showing a message pretending to be from a “police agency” with an attachment that was claimed to be a parking ticket.
That, too, is “not unusual at all,” Fidler said. “It happens all the time.” [The Washington Post, The Fix, 10/9/15]
Fox News Repeatedly Used AP Report To Fearmonger About Clinton's Private Server
Fox & Friends Chyron: “3 Countries Tried To Hack Clinton's Email.” On the October 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, a “News By The Numbers” segment cited the AP report to claim that “3 Countries Tried To Hack Clinton's Email,” falsely implying that these hacking attempts were definitively linked to foreign government support. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/8/15]
Stephen Dinan: Clinton Emails Could Be Discovered “On The Dark Corners Of The Internet.” On the October 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Washington Times reporter Stephen Dinan cited the AP article in an attempt to hypothesize about hackers obtaining information from Clinton's private server and subsequently abandoning it “on the dark corners of the Internet.” Dinan continued to fear-monger by claiming that while there were no successful hacks of Clinton's server, a theoretically successful attack could have provided information to “a terrorist related, or opposing-government related force.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 10/8/15]
Ed Henry: AP Story “Cuts Right To The Heart Of Hillary Clinton's Judgement.” On the October 8 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, correspondent Ed Henry claimed that the Associated Press story “cuts right to the heart of Hillary Clinton's judgement,” adding "[h]ere you have [...] what many of her critics have been expecting for some time." Henry concluded by asserting that “Well, her campaign down-played it [...] nonetheless, the threat is out there.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 10/8/15]
Andrea Tantaros: AP Story Proves Hillary Clinton Is “Not Serious About National Security.” On the October 8 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Andrea Tantaros cited the Associated Press story to claim that Hillary Clinton is “not serious about national security.” Tantaros continued, alleging that “The funniest thing is that [Clinton] doesn't care about the Russians, she doesn't care about the Chinese, she cares about the vast, right-wing conspiracy looking at the emails.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 10/8/15]
Ed Henry: "This Is Exactly What Hillary Clinton's Critics Have Been Warning About." On the October 8 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, correspondent Ed Henry claimed that the Associated Press report is “exactly what Hillary Clinton's critics have been warning about.” Henry concluded by stating “so you can see, the partisanship is going to go on after all of this fallout.” [Fox News, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, 10/8/15]
Ed Henry: “Just The Fact That There Was This Threat” Vindicates Critics Of Clinton's Private Server. On the October 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity, correspondent Ed Henry cited the Associated Press report, asserting that "[j]ust the fact that there was this threat [...] really points up the fact of why critics have been saying she should not have had that [server] arrangement." [Fox News, Hannity, 10/8/15]