One dataset possibly linked the Trump Organization to Alfa Bank, the largest private bank in Moscow.
The FBI investigated the underlying data and ruled out any improper cyber links, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report said in 2018 that it accepted the FBI’s conclusions, but the report also pointed out that the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank gave contradictory explanations for the “unusual activity.”
My suspicions were not allayed, so I developed a hypothesis. The Trump campaign was running NationBuilder software, or something like it. The Russians wanted the donor database for future espionage.
The challenge for the Russians was, how to access the NationBuilder database without detection? NationBuilder is remotely monitored by the company, so it’s a hard target. A virus risks detection. The answer is the minimally invasive technique known as the screen scraper.
This is actually a family of techniques. The camera of a Russian cellphone, pointed at the NationBuilder screen, could be triggered or synchronized by a sequence of simple pings between the NationBuilder server and the Alfa server. The data is captured as a sequence of .jpgs, analyzed by OCR.