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Russia and Cyber Warfare – Are We Trading Elections for Selections?

Starting all the way back in June 2016, when the Democratic National Convention revealed that its computer systems had been breached by Russian hackers, allegations (and evidence) that Russia has been using cyber-warfare in attempts to influence the politics of other countries have exploded. In January of this year, a declassified report released by the U.S. Intelligence Community, containing assessments made by the C.I.A., F.B.I., and N.S.A., concluded that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances…by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Just months later, in a situation eerily similar to the one experienced by U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, France’s election also had emails leaked at a crucial time. On May 5, 2017, a little less than 48 hours before France’s presidential election, emails from left-leaning candidate Emmanuel Macron’s party were released online, and though Macron’s campaign did not name any suspected parties at the time, the N.S.A. has since made the assessment that Russia was behind this leak as well.

While the hacks of elections in the U.S. and France received the most media coverage, it’s important to note that they are just two in a list of several countries that also suspect Russian interference in their politics.

One such country is Ukraine. In 2014, The Christian Science Monitor reported that Ukrainian officials were able to only narrowly stop a Russian-made virus in their voting systems that would have faked voting percentages and given the ultra-nationalist right-wing party leader the win (when in reality the candidate received roughly one percent of the votes). Another is the Netherlands. In the annual report released by A.I.V.D. (the Dutch intelligence service), Russia was blamed for spreading fake news to influence the country’s general election.

The increasing prevalence of these attacks makes it clear that the threat of digital sabotage is no longer an idle one. In fact, as cybersecurity pundit Justin Cappos told Vice, this kind of sabotage is probably here to stay.

“Attack capabilities in this space are likely to increase as more and more governments put more resources into developing them,” Cappos said, “and I think that increasingly we will see groups use this to try and further aims that they might otherwise try to do through other means. We’ll see countries continue to use this to influence elections.”

What Cappos is suggesting is a scary thought, especially if nothing is done to mitigate the issue. If nothing else, then, the attacks perpetrated this year are a reminder – or perhaps, a wake-up call – that the digital domain is just as important to protect as the physical one.

Featured Image Courtesy of Pixabay

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August 9, 2017
By P.K. French

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