How did Russia get good at cyber warfare? Expert blames Snowden | What Is IT?

United States intelligence agencies -- including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and others -- agree that Russian spies interfered with the election of a United States president.

Agents with the FBI and DHS think they know how the Russians engaged in cyber warfare. The first box of the chart they created represents Russian computers. An arrow shows the next step: Russian operatives get on the internet. Once online, Russia takes its first aggressive action by picking a victim. Inside the third box is the victim space, where the Russians executed the "hack" or breach, according to the U.S. intelligence agencies.

Alexander Heid is chief research officer at SecurityScorecard. He said the operatives' goal is to extract passwords or deploy malware by pushing people to fake log-in sites where they enter their passwords. Then the operatives can get into the target's data.

Russians didn't just gather in the stolen information. It was distributed and posted.

Edward Jay Epstein is the author of How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft. Epstein traces Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election right back to one of the most famous cyber thieves in the world. Epstein said no one has ever done as much damage in the history of signal intelligence as Snowden.

In 2013, Snowden was working as a private contractor for the National Security Agency when he stole 1.5 million NSA computer files. The self-declared whistleblower, who has found refuge in Russia while under indictment in the U.S., said his motives were to expose how the government spies on its citizens. The massive breach forced the U.S. government to go dark, essentially blinding American intelligence agencies for four months while there was a damage assessment. 

China and Russia used this time to their advantage.

Snowden set in motion a chain of events that Epstein said he believes brought us to where we are now: facing Russia as a formidable enemy to face in cyber warfare. Epstein said that America no longer owns cyberspace -- not since Snowden's actions in 2013.

The U.S. intelligence community believes the Russians are still actively engaged in cyber warfare against the United States and other nations. In May, President Trump signed an executive order addressing cyber security and stopping security leaks.