A consistent theme of spy movies during the cold war was Russian spies seeking to take control of international governments nefariously. That plot may not be too far fetched. Traditional elections have usually been won on the campaign trail, slugging it out over the issues until the last day, but recent elections have now begun to be won on the internet. After the massive information leak during the Democratic National Convention, and the subsequent loss by Hillary Clinton, it seems that the election of the future will be mostly won or lost with internet strategies. The most recent event has to do with the French Presidential election and the recent leak of 9 GB of emails from within the Macron campaign.
The hackers who took the information clearly wanted to sway the election since they posted the information online just before the French campaigning period ended and the candidates were restricted from making further comments. The last thing Macron said was to condemn the act. The early polls had indicated that Macron was leading in the election by up to 20% over his rival Le Pen.
The hackers were able to compromise the email accounts (both personal and professional) of some of the topmost members of Macron’s campaign. The result was a trove of information about the financial data and conversations of the campaign insiders. Though the information was obtained some time ago, the hackers did not post anything until just before the official gag order timing of the election.
Interestingly, the spread of the leaked documents took place from the Twitter account of an American right wing supporter, and then spread widely (likely through bot enabled retweeting) so that within three hours nearly fifty thousand uses of the hashtag had taken place.
Wikileaks, who broke the DNC story in the US, has said that they are not responsible, but they did post a link to the documents. Macron’s campaign has already blamed Russian and Ukraine based hacking groups because of an earlier hack which shut down their servers in February. Further, Trend Micro, the security company, informed the public that Russian hackers were targeting Macron with the use of malware and phishing emails in order to get passwords and other crucial information. Russia has, of course, denied any involvement in the attacks. The media has pointed the finger at Russia, especially since Le Pen, Macron’s rival, has pro-Russian leanings and is a far-right candidate which would likely destabilize the French economy.
Regardless of who wins the French election, this string of international hacking efforts to influence election results is going to continue in some form. Government based hackers will undoubtedly seek to influence elections in the future. The next James Bond may be sitting in a soft chair in an office building, having a latte while practicing international espionage. For businesses, there should be warning that if hackers can access campaign emails that are kept secure, they can certainly find access to business and personal emails. Cybersecurity will continue to be paramount in intellectual property protection.