Why Election Hacking and Cyber-insecurity Are Here to Stay

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

May 9, 2017

On Sunday, the French people chose Emmanuel Macron as the new president of France. The vote was conclusive, and Macron beat his main right-wing opponent Marine Le Pen by a landslide. Despite Macron’s apparent easy win, however, in reality – behind the scenes – all hell had broken out in the days running up to the election.

A massive cyberattack that targeted Macron for an unknown period of time suddenly bore fruit on Friday night. At that time, a massive leak about the new French President was dumped on the internet, ruffling a lot of feathers and causing panic among Macron supporters.

Unlike in the run-up to the US elections, however, the leak came too late to affect the outcome of the election. A nationwide ban on reporting about election candidates for 44 hours before voting, resulted in a complete media blackout about the leak. Despite widespread chatter about the leak on French social media, citizens were reticent to latch onto it.

Fingers in Ears

News about US election hacking, and a widespread belief in Europe that Trump isn’t the “breath of fresh air” that large swathes of US citizens seem to believe he is, gave the French people the impetus to think twice. The result was that the Macron leak fell largely upon deaf ears.

Not wanting to succumb to the last minute influence of an unknown outside force, the French people and media held their ground. French media outlets respected the ban on election reporting and ignored what most people felt to be an eleventh-hour attempt to upset the process.

That feeling was perpetuated by Le Pen supporters’ Twitter comments about the leak. Florian Philippot, a senior National Front official, made the following comment:

“Will Macron leaks teach us things that investigative journalism deliberately killed? It’s shocking, this shipwreck of democracy.”

French people (who are born skeptics) viewed those types of comments as a last-gasp effort to influence the race. The French contemplated them with scorn. If anything, it seems possible that the Macron leak actually helped to seal the deal for the former Rothschild banker, rather than the other way around.

One-sided Hacking Campaign

In the US, election hacking appeared only to impact one side of the race (namely Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee). The same ended up being true in France,  where the target of election hacking was also extremely one-sided. However, the reality is far more likely to be that hackers penetrated as many political candidates as possible while looking for dirt.

This is the belief of Gabi Siboni, a senior researcher at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Siboni has suggested that, because “hacking can be done over time,” the attacks may have taken place well before it was known that Macron was the front-runner.

With that in mind, Siboni concurs that it is likely “many of the candidates” were penetrated. According to Siboni, countries simply don’t have the necessary means to protect political candidates. On that point, we certainly agree.

The Heart of the Problem

The sad truth is that, despite the danger that hacking causes to the democratic process, governments are unwilling to come down in favor of robust cybersecurity. In the US, the recent Wikileaks “Vault 7” leaks about the CIA, demonstrate that the government and its intelligence agencies prefer to keep the electronic infrastructure vulnerable to attack.

Strong encryption is, time and time again, vilified by governments around the world. In the UK, the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ cast a shadow over strong encryption within the nation, by making it a legal requirement for firms to provide backdoors within their products and services. As if that wasn’t enough, it has recently emerged that the UK also plans to increase those capabilities (to begin mass real-time surveillance of citizens).

Theresa May, who was the driving force behind the Investigatory Powers Bill (known as the Snooper’s Charter) in her position as Home Secretary, will doubtless see that those proposed extensions (known as the Investigatory Powers (Technical Capability) Regulations 2017) are passed, once she wins the UK’s general election next month.

Backdoors and Cyber-insecurity

In the US, it was reported just last week that FBI Director James Comey is hopeful that the Trump administration will also pass legislation that forces backdoors on the US. With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Senate in Trump’s hands, it seems highly likely that Comey will get his wish.

Let me be clear: Comey, the alphabet agencies, and the Trump administration are a direct enemy of cybersecurity and, as such, are the enemies of democracy.

When we speak about election hacking, it is not the vote counting machines themselves that we are talking about. What we are discussing, is the ability to hack information about candidates and spread (or not spread) that information in order to create a desired outcome.

Strong encryption is the essence of cybersecurity. It is the only medicine for the disease the world is currently suffering from. Unfortunately, that disease is purposefully perpetuated by governments and the paymasters that drive the political system from behind the scenes. The media, the banks, and the military industrial complex – are all under the influence of very few hands, and those institutions are working in collusion.

As such, despite falling within the realms of ‘conspiracy’ (in many people’s minds), it seems highly likely that the ebb and flow of the opinions held by citizens around the world is being directly influenced and massaged by the will of those few entities.

On that point, you are welcome to stay on the fence. However, there is no doubt that while governments are doing their utmost to perpetuate cyber-insecurity, there is definitely something bent happening, which in no way helps the democratic process.

Opinions are the writer’s own.

Title image credit: Bakhtiar Zein/
Image credits: Voyagerix/, Frederic Legrand – COMEO/, Peshkova/

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