For most voters, the first intrusion of the prefix "cyber" into the 2016 election occurred in late July, when hackers stole 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee and posted them on WikiLeaks. While this leak was embarrassing, dominating the news cycle during the run-up to the Democratic Convention, and sinking the career of party leader Debra Wasserman Schultz, it was certainly not the first cyber-incident that this election has undergone. Here are some of the many ways that hackers and cyber security professionals have influenced the 2016 Presidential Election.
September 2015: First Warning Signs
Voters were worried about the unwelcome influence of hackers in the 2016 election as early as September of last year. The government has always been a prime target for hackers—just witness the attacks on the Office of Personnel Management—and a poll in late 2015 showed that nearly two thirds of voters were concerned that the US presidential election would be hacked. Well before the first vote had even been cast in the election, the electorate was that the election would be thrown by cybercriminals.
March 2016: Anonymous vs. Trump
Anonymous has been attempting to channel the efforts of its army of amateur hackers into causes it deems humanitarian for quite some time. In late 2015, they launched a campaign to take over social media accounts linked to ISIS. Last November, they attempted to expose members of the KKK. In March, with Donald Trump seeming to be the inevitable Republican nominee, the hacktivist collective turned their ire on him.
Was it super effective? Not… really. Anonymous members were able to score a few minor hits, notably releasing one of the candidate's private phone numbers. However, they failed to really do damage to the future GOP nominee. None of his websites went down, no embarrassing or incriminating documents were released, and the movement later devolved into a factional argument over whether to even attack Trump in the first place.
July 2016: The DNC Emails
Now we're back to where we started. The cyberattack against the DNC was absolutely devastating in terms of its stealth, persistence, and ability to infiltrate data. When compared to the Anonymous attacks on Trump, it was like watching a billion-dollar bank heist versus a convenience-store holdup.
As nearly everyone knows by now, the attacks against the DNC are widely suspected to have been orchestrated by the Russian government. What is not widely known is that the footprints of at least two different Russian intelligence agencies were found within the DNC servers. Of those attackers, at least one agency had infiltrated DNC communications for over a year.
There's Still Time Between Now and November…
From September of last year onwards, cyber threats related to the 2016 presidential election have only escalated. From vague concerns last fall, and an ineffective attack on Trump in the Spring, we've now arrived at a massive nation-state attack versus Hillary Clinton. There are still three months until the election—and plenty more could still go wrong.
First of all, we almost certainly haven't seen the last of the DNC emails. Julian Assange (of WikiLeaks fame), says that he has thousands more DNC emails in store, just waiting to be released as part of an October surprise. In the meantime, there are concerns that the polling booths themselves might be hacked, leading to an inaccurate voter tally. These concerns aren't invalid—halfway through 2016, over 50% of hacks are now directed at government agencies.
From the sidelines, pretty much all ordinary Americans can do is sit on the sidelines and trust in the ability of campaigns and election officials to shore up their defenses. Private enterprises, however, should take the following lesson—if they can hack the government, they can certainly hack you too. Learn how Safe-T can help enterprises and government keep their emails private with automatic encryption policies and their networks secure, and check out our white paper today.