Hackers test defenses of Trump campaign websites ahead of U.S. election, security staff warn

LONDON, Sept 1 (Reuters) – Hackers have stepped up efforts to knock Trump campaign and business websites offline ahead of the U.S. election, in what a security firm working for the campaign said could be preparation for a larger digital assault, according to emails seen by Reuters.

The security assessment was prepared by staff at U.S. cybersecurity firm Cloudflare, which has been hired by President Donald Trump to help defend his campaign’s websites in an election contest overshadowed by warnings about hacking, disinformation and foreign interference.

Cloudflare is widely used by businesses and other organizations to help defend against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which aim to take down websites by flooding them with malicious traffic.

45 PHOTOSRNC 2020See GalleryRNC 2020Vice President Mike Pence arrives with his wife Karen Pence to speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Donald Trump Jr., speaks as he tapes his speech for the first day of the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with frontline workers in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 24: Kimberly Guilfoyle pre-records her address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium August 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced the Republican Party to move away from an in-person convention to a televised format, similar to the Democratic Party’s convention a week earlier. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Tiffany Trump walks on stage to tape her her speech for the second day of the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Patricia and Mark McCloskey, a couple from St. Louis who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, addresses the virtual convention in a pre-recorded video broadcasted on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Republican National Committee Chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, speaks during the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Donald Trump Jr., speaks as he tapes his speech for the first day of the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Delegates are seated for the first day of the Republican National Convention, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, pool)The room is set and delegates begin to arrive for the first day of the Republican National Convention, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.(Travis Dove/The New York Times via AP, Pool)President Donald Trump speaks the Republican National Committee convention site, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump (C) speaks with freed hostages (L-R) Pastor Andrew Brunson, Sam Goodwin, Michael White, Joshua and Tamara Holt and Pastor Bryan Nerran in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 24, 2020. The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump (C) speaks with freed hostages (L-R) Pastor Andrew Brunson, Sam Goodwin, Michael White, Joshua and Tamara Holt and Pastor Bryan Nerran in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 24, 2020. The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Pennsylvania congressional nominee Sean Parnell addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 24: Wearing a face mask to reduce the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus, Donald Trump Jr. (R) watches his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle as she pre-records her address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium August 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Republican Party to move away from an in-person convention to a televised format, similar to the Democratic Party’s convention a week earlier. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Natalie Harp, campaign advisory board member for U.S. President Donald Trump, addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. Rep. Vernon Jones (D-GA) addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with frontline workers in a pre-recorded video broadcasted during the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, nurse practitioner Amy Johnson Ford addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, surgeon Dr. G.E. Ghali addresses the virtual convention on August 24, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)First lady Melania Trump speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)First lady Melania Trump arrives to speak on the second night of the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)First lady Melania Trump arrives to speak on the second night of the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 25: Eric Trump, son of U.S. President Donald Trump, pre-records his address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Republican Party to move away from an in-person convention to a televised format, similar to the Democratic Party’s convention a week earlier. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 25: A stage manager adjusts the tie of Eric Trump, son of U.S. President Donald Trump, before he pre-records his address to the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium on August 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Republican Party to move away from an in-person convention to a televised format, similar to the Democratic Party’s convention a week earlier. 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Joni Ernst (R-IA) addresses the virtual convention on August 26, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 26:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng addresses the virtual convention on August 26, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. 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(Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 26:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Former South Carolina Gamecocks football coach Lou Holtz addresses the virtual convention on August 26, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 26:(EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this screenshot from the RNC’s livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, Sister Dede Byrne, surgeon, military veteran and member of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, addresses the virtual convention on August 26, 2020.The convention is being held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but will include speeches from various locations including Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, DC. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images)First lady Melania Trump speaks on the second night of the Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Vice President Mike Pence speaks on the third day of the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Supports wait to hear Vice President Mike Pence speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive for his acceptance speech to the Republican National Committee Convention on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Ivanka Trump speaks to introduce President Donald Trump from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)(L-R) Second Lady Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence, Barron Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump listen to President Trump deliver his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination for reelection during the final day of the Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House on August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)Up Next

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Internal Cloudflare emails sent to senior company managers – including CEO Matthew Prince – on July 9 state that the number and severity of attacks on Trump websites increased in the preceding two months and reached record levels in June. The emails did not give the total number of attacks.

“As we get closer to the election, attacks are increasing in both numbers (and) sophistication” and succeeded in disrupting access to the targeted websites for short periods of time between March 15 and June 6, the assessment said.

Cloudflare did not respond directly to questions about the emails or their contents. The company said it was providing security services to both U.S. presidential campaigns and declined to answer further questions about the nature or details of its work.

“We have seen an increase in cyberattacks targeting political candidates. We will continue to work to ensure these attacks do not disrupt free and fair elections,” it said in a statement when asked about the emails.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The Biden campaign declined to comment on its work with Cloudflare or any attacks on its websites.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization said no Trump websites had been taken offline by cyberattacks. She did not respond to further questions about the attacks or Trump’s work with Cloudflare.

Cloudflare’s security team did not comment on the identity of the hackers and Reuters was not able to determine who was responsible for the attacks.

DDoS attacks are viewed by cybersecurity experts as a relatively crude form of digital sabotage – easily deployed by anyone from tech-savvy teenagers to top-end cyber criminals.

But seven of the attacks on Trump websites, including donaldjtrump.com and a Trump-owned golf course, were judged to be more serious by the Cloudflare security team, the emails show.

The increasing number and sophistication of attempts suggested the attackers were “probing” the website defenses to establish what would be needed to take them fully offline, the security assessment said.

“We therefore cannot discount the possibility that there are attackers using this as an opportunity to collect information for more sophisticated attacks,” it added.

The Cloudflare team said they would continue to monitor the attacks and carry out “a further round of security hardening” to better protect the websites.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Menn in SAN FRANCISCO; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Edward Tobin)

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