Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn., became the latest victim in a series of high-profile political cyberthefts, when thousands of dollars were taken from her campaign account in an unauthorized transfer.
According to records filed with the Federal Election Commission, a cyber thief known as "Vix" made an "unauthorized fraudulent wire transfer" for more than $186,000 from Harshbarger's account on July 8.
In a July filing, the Harshbarger campaign told the commission that the receiving bank "froze the funds and returned all the money in question," so the Volunteer State congresswoman wasn't short on cash for long.
"Our internal controls caught a fraudulent invoice, and steps were taken immediately to rectify the situation, and we recovered the full amount," Zac Rutherford, Harshbarger's congressional chief of staff and senior campaign advisor, told Insider in a statement. "We reported the crime to the FBI and consulted the FEC on how to report this unauthorized expenditure."
While the Harshbarger campaign did not provide details on how exactly the theft occurred, a person with knowledge of the matter told Insider that it was a sophisticated heist and the thief deposited the stolen campaign funds into a Wells Fargo bank account.
FEC spokesperson Judith Ingram said the agency "cannot comment on individual candidates or committees" and noted that the FEC advises political committees on how to protect against theft and provides instructions on how to proceed if money is stolen from a campaign account.
According to Insider, political committees of all types and sizes have been targeted by thieves, including the Republican National Committee, President Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign, the American Hospital Association's PAC and Kanye West's 2020 presidential campaign.
Phishing is the preferred method among cyber thieves, but stealing or falsifying paper checks are also common methods.
James E. Lee, chief operating officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told Insider that political committees are attractive targets for cybercriminals.
"Campaigns often lack the training, awareness, and tools to fight against the well-organized, highly skilled, and relentless cybercrime groups that specialize in phishing attacks," Lee said. "Campaigns also have two things that financially motivated identity criminals want — cash and the personal information of donors. Nation/state threat actors may also be interested in the donor information, depending on the candidate and office the candidate is seeking."
Political committees should take several steps to secure their operations, Lee said, including training staff members to spot cyberattacks and using multifactor authentication as part of a larger cybersecurity strategy.
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