Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

When the State Dept temporarily shut down its unclassified email system in 2014, it was actually thwarting a Russian cyber hack, which new details indicate was a more aggressive attack than previously thought.

1. Russia wanted a confrontation: Russia wasn't just sleuthing around for intel when it hacked into the unclassified State Dept system. It was seeking a confrontation, and testing the US' willingness to escalate matters, per The Washington Post.

They're sending a message that we have capabilities and that you are not the only player in town.

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett called it the cyber version of "hand-to-hand combat."

2. Newfound aggression: In 2014 the hackers stopped backing down when they knew they were being detected. Before that, as Kevin Mandia, Chief Executive Officer of cybersecurity firm FireEye, told the Senate Intel Committee last week, the Russians would back down when they were detected.

3. China and Iran are increasingly aggressive, too: Current and former senior officials said China and Iran have similar capabilities and have been upping the ante when hacking into U.S. systems. They report hackers from these countries are also not backing down even when they know they have been detected.

4. Other vulnerabilities: Similar attacks have been launched on the White House and in Congress, and Ledgett is concerned companies won't be able to fend off attacks like these.

Why it matters: As Georgetown Professor Roy Godson put it to the Senate Intel Committee when asked about Russia's more high-profile hacks last year, "Was he tempted by our lack of action?"

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