Hacking the Presidency: Will Data Breaches Help Decide the 2016 Presidential Election?

The 2016 presidential election hasn’t been without controversy. Both candidates have blemishes on their records that have left many Americans with a bitter pill to swallow when voting comes in November, and cybersecurity has been put front and center in a way never before seen in a U.S. election. Email hacks, data breaches, cybersecurity ineptitude — they’re not just conversation topics among infosec wonks; but major campaign talking points.

Cybercrime has already infiltrated many facets of our everyday lives. Account information, payment card information, trade secrets, and more are regularly obtained and sold like merchandise on underground markets. Cyber-espionage also remains a huge threat as organizations and governments attempt to secure their precious secrets. With such a divided nation over who will become our next president, could the recent data breach of Democratic National Committee (DNC) data be a sign of what’s to come in this election?

More importantly, could this be the first presidential campaign ultimately swung by leaked information obtained in a data breach?

The information released by WikiLeaks from the DNC email breach caused an uproar from American citizens as the emails released showed a clear bias for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders — a claim made by the Sanders campaign months before the DNC data breach. While none of the DNC information shows correspondence from Hillary Clinton directly, the DNC breach– along with other related cybersecurity issues — has had a big impact in Clinton’s polling numbers. However, the latest polls show Clinton above Trump by a favorable margin.

Clinton isn’t out of hot water yet. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told PBS’s Judy WoodRuff in a recent interview there would be more information released that will negatively affect Clinton’s campaign:

It’s a wide range of material. It covers a number of important issues. There’s a variety of natural batches and some thematic constellations that we’re working on.

It’s interesting material. We have done enough work now that we are comfortable with the material’s authenticity. And so now it’s a matter of completing the format, layout to make it easy and accessible and so that journalists can easily extract material from it, extract stories from it, and also the general public.

DNC Fallout from Breach

DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation as national party chair following the leak of the stolen DNC emails. Since the Democratic National Convention has wrapped up, more high-profile DNC officials have announced their resignation as well.

Chief Executive Amy Dacey, Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall, and Communications Director Luis Miranda have all resigned just days after a new chair took over for Schultz. Luis Miranda was one of the key figures whose email account was breached and leaked by WikiLeaks.

The rest of the DNC members whose accounts were hacked have not resigned, including National Finance Director Jordon Kaplan, Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer, Finance Director of Data & Strategic Initiatives Daniel Parrish, Finance Director Allen Zachary, Senior Advisor Andrew Wright, and Northern California Finance Director Robert Stowe.

Donald Trump in the Mix

During the DNC breach investigation, evidence was discovered linking Russia to the cyber-attack. Based off of this information, Trump called for Russia to conduct cyber-espionage against Hillary Clinton:

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said referencing Clinton’s email scandal. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Trump later said he was kidding about his comment.

Not every politician found his remarks funny. Democratic Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island recently petitioned Senator and former Presidential candidate Ted Cruz to conduct an investigation into Trump’s support of involvement from Russia in U.S. elections. The Senators wrote the letter to Cruz because he chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, which potentially could have jurisdiction in the matter. Cruz has not responded to the letter and his involvement in the matter is not likely.

Still, the damage has been done to Trump as the Clinton campaign is alleging him of having ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which makes his “joke” no laughing matter.

The data breach of the DNC, the controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails, accusations that Russia is trying to directly influence the election — this is the first time a presidential election cycle has been so heavily dominated by cybersecurity events.

The effects, at least for the candidates, have been relatively mild so far, but with WikiLeaks promising more leaks painting Hillary Clinton in a bad light, there is the potential that a close election in November could ultimately be decided based on cybersecurity.

No matter the outcome, cybersecurity has gained a national stage and everyone should take notice. Understanding cyber threats and the potential consequences of those threats is vital, whether you’re an employee, an executive, or a presidential candidate.

Author: SurfWatch Labs

SurfWatch Labs provides you with an all-in-one intelligence function that includes: - Building and updating your personalized cyber risk profile - Continuous risk monitoring - Specific threat mitigation recommendations With SurfWatch Las, you know what threats to worry about and how to address them before it's too late.

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