Earlier this month, technology publication Gizmodo published a report on how it "phished" members of the administration and campaign teams of President Donald Trump. The blog said it identified 15 prominent figures on Trump's team and sent e-mails to each posing as friends, family members, or associates containing a faked Google Docs link. But did the publication inadvertently break the law? ArsTechnica reports: "This was a test of how public officials in an administration whose president has been highly critical of the security failures of the DNC stand up to the sort of techniques that hackers use to penetrate networks," said John Cook, executive editor of Gizmodo's Special Projects Desk, in an e-mail conversation with Ars. Gizmodo targeted some marquee names connected to the Trump administration, including Newt Gingrich, Peter Thiel, (now-ex) FBI director James Comey, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, presidential advisor Sebastian Gorka, and the administration's chief policymakers for cybersecurity. The test didn't appear to prove much. Gingrich and Comey responded to the e-mail questioning its provenance. And while about half of the targeted officials may have clicked the link -- eight devices' IP addresses were recorded accessing the linked test page -- none entered their login credentials. The test could not determine whose devices clicked on the link. What the test did manage to do is raise the eyebrows of security experts and some legal experts. That's because despite their efforts to make it "reasonably" apparent that this was a test, Gizmodo's phishing campaign may have violated several laws, ignoring many of the restrictions usually placed on similar tests by penetration-testing and security firms. At a minimum, Gizmodo danced along the edges of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
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