DNC Punishes Sanders Campaign For Data Breach

Washington (CNN) — The Democratic National Committee suspended Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign’s access to the DNC voter database after the party organization said the campaign was able to take advantage of a software error to access Hillary Clinton’s confidential voter information.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, left, and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, participate in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, left, and Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, participate in the first Democratic presidential debate at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. While tonight’s first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there’s still potential for strong disagreements between the party’s leading contenders. Photographer: Josh Haner/Pool via Bloomberg

The suspension is a setback for the Vermont senator — who fired the staffer involved — because the database is a goldmine of information about voters nationwide. Campaigns usually use that data to plot their next moves.

The DNC database keeps the information gathered by different campaigns separated by a firewall.

But the data systems vendor that runs the program dropped the firewall for a brief period Wednesday, during which time the data was accessed.

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The Washington Post was the first to report the incident.

The fired staffer was the campaign’s national data director, Josh Uretsky, who told CNN Friday morning that he was not trying to access Clinton voter data.

He said instead that he was just trying to “understand how badly the Sanders campaign’s data was exposed” by the software error.

“We knew there was a security breach in the data, and we were just trying to understand it and what was happening,” Uretsky said.

He added that to the best of his knowledge, “nobody took anything that would have given the (Sanders) campaign any benefit.”

Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said, “That behavior is unacceptable and that staffer was fired immediately.”

A blow to the campaign

The Sanders campaign will remain suspended until it provides the DNC with a full explanation of the episode and provides proof that any accessed data has been discarded.

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries now less than two months away, this suspension will likely be an obstacle for the Sanders campaign.

According to DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda, the data systems vendor, NGP-VAN, alerted the DNC about the issue Wednesday.

He said “all users on the system across Democratic campaigns were inadvertently able to access some data belonging to other campaigns for a brief window.”

The vendor was instructed “to identify any users who accessed data, the actions they took in the system, and to report their findings to Party and affected campaigns.”

The DNC is currently working with the campaigns and the vendor to more fully understand the extent of the breach and to “ensure that this isolated incident doesn’t happen again.”

Not the first time

Briggs, the Sanders spokesman, said this isn’t the first time the firewall has failed.

“Our campaign months ago alerted the DNC to the fact that campaign data was being made available to other campaigns. At that time our campaign did not run to the media, relying instead on assurances from the vendor,” he said.

“Unfortunately, yesterday, the vendor once again dropped the firewall between the campaigns for some data. After discussion with the DNC it became clear that one of our staffers accessed some modeling data from another campaign.”

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