Sanders presidential campaign accuses Democrats of dirty data tricks

IT security snafu leads to two tribes going to war

Bernie Sanders

A hacking row is splitting the Democratic Party's presidential campaign after an incident with the party's database provider.

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been cut off from access to the vital voter targeting database after one of his campaign staffers improperly entered the servers of the database's host provider NGP VAN. The company hosts the campaign profiles for both Hillary Clinton and Sanders, and a 45-minute firewall failure allowed a staffer on the latter's campaign team to view data from the Clinton's campaign files.

"We fired the staffer immediately and made certain that any information obtained was not utilized," said Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign manager, in a statement.

"We are now speaking to other staffers who might have been involved and further disciplinary action may be taken. Clearly, while that information was made available to our campaign because of the incompetence of the vendor, it should not have been looked at. Period."

Weaver explained that the Sanders IT staff warned NGP VAN months ago about failures in the firewall that separates the databases of the two accounts, calling it "dangerous incompetence."

The now-fired IT guy behind the kerfuffle, Josh Uretsky, told CNN that he took "100 per cent" responsibility. He noticed the firewall was down on Wednesday morning, and only entered the server to create a trace route that could be used as evidence that the flaw existed. He was cut off when NGP VAN closed the hole.

"In retrospect, I got a little panicky because our data was totally exposed too," he said. "We had to have an assessment, and understand how broad the exposure was and I had to document it so that I could try to calm down and think about what actually happened so that I could figure out how to protect our stuff."

Uretsky asserted that he was going to report the issue to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), but instead they called him first with a warning that there was something fishy going on in NGP VAN's servers. He was fired by the campaign shortly afterwards.

DNC turns BOFH

The DNC's chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that the problem was caused by a third-party vendor's software patch and was quickly fixed by NGP VAN. The database was never open to external attackers, and no financial information, donor records, or volunteer data files were exposed, she said.

NGP VAN will be performing a forensic examination of the incident, and an independent auditor will conduct a parallel analysis to find out what exactly went on. In the meantime, the Sanders campaign will no longer have access to the voter profiling database until a full report from the Sanders team is forthcoming.

"We are working with the Sanders and Clinton campaigns and NGP VAN to establish all of the facts and move forward as quickly as possible," chair Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

"Our primary goal at this moment is to ensure the integrity of the data so that the campaigns – and the entire Democratic Party – can continue the important work we do of connecting with voters on the issues that matter most to them and their families."

The timing couldn't be worse for the Sanders campaign; the third of the campaign's six presidential candidate debates is held on Saturday and it's a prime fundraising opportunity that will be crippled without access to the database. Prolonged loss of access will be even more damaging.

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver called foul on the DNC's decision to block his team from the database and demanded an investigation into the DNC's handling of the data, including the incident reported to NGP VAN back in October.

"By their action, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign. This is unacceptable," said Weaver at a press conference on Friday.

"Individual leaders of the DNC can support Hillary Clinton in any way they want, but they are not going to sabotage our campaign – one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in modern history. If the DNC continues to hold our data hostage, and continues to try to attack the heart and soul of our campaign, we will be in federal court this afternoon seeking an immediate injunction." ®

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