Russian hackers got a peek at some of Obama’s emails last year

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Even the president of the United States isn’t completely safe when it comes to online hacks. The New York Times reports that hackers believed to be working for the Russian authorities managed to harvest some of President Obama’s email messages during a cyberattack carried out last year.

Only unclassified material was accessed, and the officials speaking to the NYT say that the president’s BlackBerry remained securely protected at all times. What the hackers were able to see were unclassified emails sent to government workers in the State Department and elsewhere. While the cybercriminals didn’t get into Obama’s personal email account, they apparently did pick up some correspondence sent from it.

As we reported in October, a series of hacking attacks affected both the White House and the State Department. While the authorities were keen to play down the impact of the digital espionage, it seems that the damage could be more widespread than was originally thought. In February, the U.S. State Department said it has to block several thousand hacking attempts every day.

“This has been one of the most sophisticated actors we’ve seen,” said a senior White House official of the hackers involved in the incident. Staff at the White House are connected to both a secure internal network and an unclassified external network — for communicating with the outside world — and it’s the latter network that was exploited.

Schedules, communications with ambassadors and diplomats, pending personnel moves and legislation, and some policy debate could be among the information obtained by the hackers, according to the New York Times. Many of the president’s official classified briefings are given orally or on paper, however.