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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The DNC walked back an assertion that it had detected a "sophisticated" hacking attempt early Thursday, announcing instead that it was simply a subcontractor's unauthorized security test.

Why it matters: While this is a slight black eye for the DNC, who look a little foolish for riling up the press over what turned out to be an internal matter, it's a massive victory for Lookout, the third-party security firm that caught the "attempt" with its unique approach to discovering phishing sites.

What actually happened:

  • The DNC uses the contractor NGP VAN to manage its digital voter operations — specifically, a product known as VoteBuilder.
  • Lookout discovered what appeared to be a newly-registered phishing site meant to look like the NGP VAN site and alerted several stakeholders.
  • After an FBI investigation, it turned out that, according to the DNC's chief security officer Bob Lord, a third party "not authorized by the DNC or its vendors" set up the site to test Democrats' resiliency to phishing attacks.
  • Michael Kan, a reporter for PCMag, determined that the unauthorized third party was the Michigan Democratic Party — technically a separate entity from the national group.
  • It's not uncommon for organizations to try to phish their own members as both an educational experience and security audit.

The tech behind the hullabaloo:

  • "Most people in security want to know why a mobile security company discovered the phishing site," Aaron Cockerill, chief strategy officer at Lookout, told Axios. "There are dedicated products to protect organizations from phishing. Lookout is not one of them."
  • Cockerill said Lookout, which protects mobile phones, got into the phishing protection buisness because phishing remains a key mobile threat. Lookout caught the site where others didn't because it uses a different apparatus than other phishing protection services.
  • Most products run checks on a site after links are sent to clients. "We call that the 'sacrificial lamb approach,'" said Cockerill. "The links won't be detected as phishing sites until someone first sees them, which may be too late for that person."
  • Lookout, on the other hand, uses AI to detect if any newly-registered sites are phishing sites. In the NGP VAN case, Cockerill said, it identified the site half an hour after it launched.

Go deeper: Inside the Democratic war against hacks.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our cybersecurity newsletter, Codebook. 

Go deeper

Students vandalize and steal from schools for viral TikTok challenge

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A viral TikTok challenge is leading students nationwide to shatter mirrors, steal fire alarms and intentionally clog toilets, The Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Dubbed the the “Devious Licks challenge, students are showing off their "devious licks" on TikTok — with a sped-up version of "Ski Ski BasedGod" by rapper Lil’ B playing in the background.

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.

18 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.