Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as chair after WikiLeaks leaked embarrassing DNC emails .
Image: Charles Dharapak/ AP

Remember when hackers just wanted your money? Now theyre power-brokers.

Like a perfectly executed back somersault, Russian hackers allegedly transgressed into the Democratic National Committee servers, scooped up thousands of emails and then deposited them in the hands of the whistleblowing activist group WikiLeaks, which released them 48 hours before the kickoff of the Democratic National convention. They then stuck the landing by inspiring the resignation of party leader Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

No, WikiLeaks has not revealed its source, the Russians said nyet ! to at least one DNC hack, and Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump believes the whole thing is a joke( and maybe stupid ).

However, theres no denying that the hacker, which was widely reported last month but actually took place over the course of a year, happened and that cyber security firm CrowdStrike believes it was conducted by Russian Intelligence Agencies.( CrowdStrike declined to comment for my story .)

A terrible turning point

Long gone are the days when people hacked for amusement and notoriety. Taking control of a local system or maybe a public, digital display to send your message was fun, empowering and essentially harmless. More recently cyber crooks have focused on identity theft and relied heavily on social engineering to capture their prey. Those acts quickly transformed hacking from relatively minor annoyances into a serious concern for individuals and organizations.

The addition of activist groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous along with, increasingly, state-sponsored hackers has transformed the cybercrime into a nightmarish scenery with global implications. Cyber crime no longer encompasses what were witnessing here. These are Cyber assaults in the truest sense of the word.

From Russia, with love

Activist groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous along with, increasingly, state-sponsored hackers has transformed the cybercrime into a nightmarish landscape with global implications

Credit for releasing the highly embarrassing DNC emails leaks at the few moments to disrupt the Democratic National Convention goes to WikiLeaks, but I do wonder how long Russian intelligence, which may have been retaliating for the embarrassing Panama Papers leak, held onto the treasure trove of data before handing it over to WikiLeaks and if they offered any guidance on release timing.

Russias interest in this presidential election is obvious, but whats less clear is why Russia would want to hobble the Democrats and, potentially, prop up Trump.

Trump has expended considerable bytes tweeting about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Most of the time, he characterizes the present U.S. administration as weak in the face of Russias growing strength. However, Putin and Trump have expressed something stronger than respect for each other it might even be fair to call it admiration.

In addition, according to Talking Points Memo , Russian entities have considerable financial interests in Trumps campaign and his companies. In other terms, the more you read about Trump and Russia, the more you realize that theres likely nothing random about the original DNC hack or the timing of the email dump.

The best action is cyber action

Im not arguing that we are learning something shocking and new about cyberattacks.

Few, if any, still question whether or not hackers can break through any defense, although the defenses they meet are rarely as strong as they could be( the DNC called in CrowdStrike after it was hacked) and high profiles attacks and data releases have been making headlines for years.

In December 2014, Sony suffered through one of the worst and most damaging cyberattacks in history. It set, in part, a template for what was to come.

The hackers may have gotten into Sonys servers not through a brute force assault, but via phishing. The attacker was likely sponsored by North Korea, which was angry about Seth Rogens 2014 slapstick The Interview , a satire about assassinating North Koreas Kim Jung Un( trust me, its a comedy ). As with this latest hack, the data the hackers procured eventually made its route to WikiLeaks, and the many revelations unearthed there eventually cost Sony millions.

Hackers get a vote

Thus far, this DNC hack and WikiLeaks email dump has expensed exactly one job, and yet the implications are greater. The turning point is not inevitably the cyber-attacks themselves( consider OPM, Sony, Target, JP Morgan, etc. etc .) but the immediate post-hack PR damage control, said Cybersecurity Ventures CEO and founder Steve Morgan in an email.

As for the target the DNC that doesnt surprise Morgan at all. Nation states ought to have collecting surveillance datum from( perceived) antagonists for decades. A Russian hack on a U.S. political party should come as no surprise. Russian spies have gone digital, as have Chinese spies.

Morgan also noted that state-sponsored hacking groups run like a business.

They draft talent much the style professional sports squads do recruiting the youngest and brightest as well as seasoned veteran hackers, Morgan explained.

The almost nostalgic image of renegade coders sniffing far flung servers from the relative safety and consolation of their cellar has been replaced by armies of state-sponsored hackers( who are usually still geographically spread out while remaining hacking-network-connected) launching subtle social engineering, as well as brute-force, attacks on ever bigger targets.

Intelligence gathering and disruption are their purposes, but this new front, real-time political change and, perhaps, gain, is something more.

Whoever handed WikiLeaks these emails, Russian intelligence-backed hackers or otherwise, theyre all now playing an active role in the U.S. presidential election. That somehow seems bigger and scarier than anything thats come before.

Read more: