Cyber Political Warfare
Do you remember the last time hackers and cybercriminals determined the outcome of a presidential race? Of course not, because it’s never happened. It could happen now. Without even thinking about it, we’ve slipped into a new era. I would dub this the Age of Cyber-Political Warfare. This playing-field is thick with espionage, and it’s dominated by people who have little to no political clout. Instead, they have technical know-how.
It’s common knowledge that the internet is rife with identity theft. Social profiles, email, ecommerce sites, and mobile devices all provide excellent avenues for cyber-thieves. Oftentimes, it doesn’t take hacking skills to get information. The Snapchat employees who had their information stolen were victims of an email phishing scam. All the thief had to do was pretend to be Snapchat’s CEO and ask a single employee for payroll data.
In the case of Hillary Clinton, it wasn’t hard for a cybercriminal to reveal her email activities. Data security firm Kroll points out that the revelation didn’t even technically involve hacking. Rather, it’s a high-profile case of a compromised account. The compromiser, ‘Guccifer’ Marcel Lehel Lazar, used open source Intelligence (OSINT) to find out personal information about Sydney Blumenthal, who is a Clinton confidant. He used Open Source information to figure out Blumenthal’s email password. From there, he discovered Clinton was using a private server to email Blumenthal. Then, Guccifer published Clinton’s private email info online.
Guccifer was sentenced to four years in prison. Is that enough to deter an onlooker from copying his crimes? Apparently not, because Guccifer 2.0 has surfaced to release more stolen information. According to the original Guccifer, this kind of digital detective work is “easy… easy for me, for everybody.” Everybody can hunt down information that could potentially determine the result of a political election. This puts a brand new kind of power in the hands of the many. Anyone smart enough to follow trails of data online can be a player in the Age of Cyber-Political Warfare.
The biggest player here is Russia. The White House is certain that Russia’s state-sponsored hackers compromised Democratic National Committee email accounts, with the intent of influencing the election. Secureworks reports that the hackers used a phishing scam. They made it look like members of the Clinton campaign and the DNC were logging into Gmail accounts. The login page was fake, and through it the hackers gained login data. Reportedly, Russian hacking group Fancy Bear used Bitly to setup the malicious URLs, which read ‘accounts-google.com’ instead of accounts.google.com. Now Bitly isn’t just a customer experience platform and IBM partner. It’s an unwitting tool in the hands of malicious hackers.
Obama promised a proportional response to the hacks. What would cyberwar with Russia look like? If a ‘proportional response’ is coming, we’ll see the release of inside information about Vladimir Putin or other high-ranking Russian officials. But how this would influence Russian politics, no one can be sure. Russia could merely cite our desire to get revenge and brush any sort of leaks off as petty attempts to disparage Russian officials.
One thing is clear: to be a politician now, you have to be, at minimum, cognizant of cyber threats. While American politics is stuck in the binary of red vs. blue, the fluid and fast world of the web is a much more complex place. It’s a place where people wheel-and-deal on a multinational level. It’s a powerful place to reach people and to access their data. Politicians want to use the internet as a tool, but by doing so they’re placing their data and their information at risk. In the Age of Cyber-Political Warfare, that data will continue to be a weapon for invisible and powerful opponents.
By Daniel Matthews
Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer from Boise, ID. Daniel received his Bachelor’s in English from Boise State University in 2006, and is currently working on a book about the 2008 financial crisis. Widely-published online, he specializes in research and analysis that sheds light on the intersection of tech, business, and current affairs. Daniel is an avid writer and technology enthusiast whose mission is to bring journalistic integrity and informed opinions to his audience in ways that make them think differently about the world. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.