Bloomberg reported recently that the Russian hacks during our last presidential election were much more widespread than initially thought. In fact, it was twice as bad, with 39 states floating in the crosshairs of the Russian exploits.
The attacks were (and doubtless still are) focused on voter databases and voting software. There was evidence that the hackers actually attempted to “delete or alter voter data” according to Bloomberg. If that’s not manipulating our election system, I don’t know what is.
Also revealed in the latest news was a “red phone” communication with Russian authorities during which former President Obama complained directly about the widespread hacks, offering evidence of those attacks and warning Russian officials that continued efforts to manipulate the U.S. electoral system could have serious consequences.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be summarily dismissed as partisan whining. Bad sportsmanship doesn’t come anywhere near explaining why cybersecurity professionals are universally alarmed by the emerging picture of Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
Call It a Probe
It would be easier to talk about this if the stakes were not so high. Because a sitting president is currently under investigation for possible obstruction of justice on specifically the question of collusion with the Russians to hack the election, the truth has been politicized.
Setting aside the damaging effect of the hacked information about DNC collusion with the Clinton campaign to shut down Senator Bernie Sanders, an attack that was reportedly 100 percent Russian in origin, let’s pretend that the presidency wasn’t affected by Russia.
How do we understand it? It’s sort of like a UFO reconnaissance visit, only we know who was in the spaceship. What were these cyberspace invaders doing? It’s impossible to know, but it looks a lot like this past election was more about fact-finding than it was about immediate world domination.
Most of the attacks seemed more like penetration testing, a common exercise in cybersecurity practices. The hackers were poking around to see what they could see, and even, in the case of Illinois, looked into the possibility of actually changing voter data, which could have easily digitally disenfranchised eligible voters. Interestingly, the database that was manipulated was in a district that made zero-difference in overall election outcomes. That fact tends to further suggest the Russians were in test mode, and not battle mode.
That said, those UFO probes are never friendly in the movies. It’s always about taking over the planet and sucking it dry. We have to assume that the Russian tests were part of a bigger picture attack, one that would benefit their nation at a profound cost to ours, in fact the very bedrock of what makes America great.
It’s important to realize that, regardless of your feelings about the ultimate outcome, there was an actual effect — fallout from the DNC leak swayed many voters — so, we’re looking at a tough situation even if you’re pleased with Trump’s ultimate victory last November.
It is not easy to separate the politics out from the current Russia probe, but it’s crucial to do so. While it is a very big deal, if there are guilty parties among what was the Trump campaign or collusion with the Russian attempts to hack the U.S. electoral system on American soil, there is a much bigger deal here.
Team Trump may be cleared of all suspicion or some of its members may go to prison, get fired, or be forced to resign. Regardless, we are left to confront a very new and terrifying reality. We now know categorically that our nation’s electoral system is hackable.
The first order of business is separating out the politicization of the Russia hack. It’s hard, because there could have been collusion. The possibility of collusion is political. It could also be very isolated. We know for instance that the very collusion alleged here simply would not occur with a candidate like Clinton whose anti-Russia stance is well known. So, if the Trump campaign was working with the Russians to spike the punch, it might never happen again.
That’s not the issue. Most of what we saw this time around was exploratory. The real attack will be built off of what the Russians learned in 2016. And while there are many who advocate a universal return to paper ballots, others believe we must embrace new technologies in order to expand voter participation in the U.S. Regardless, it is time for some serious reform. It is crucial that we adopt stringent cybersecurity protocols to protect our election system, from Dixville Notch to Pittsburgh to Ann Arbor and beyond, and it needs to happen now.
Adam K. Levin is a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and is a nationally recognized expert on cybersecurity, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance. A former Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. Adam Levin is the author of Amazon Best Seller "Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves." He is the security and credit expert for ABCNews.com and writes a weekly column for The Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine, The Hill, and Newsmax. Mr. Levin is a go-to expert appearing on many national TV programs including "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," "MSNBC Live," "Fox and Friends," "NBC Nightly News," "ABC World News Tonight," "Cavuto Coast to Coast," "Bloomberg Surveillance," as well as national radio throughout the country. Read more of his reports — Go Here Now.
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