Russian Hacking: How did it affect the 2016 elections?
An extensive Politico report shows how we are less than prepared for the Digital Cold War, and our democracies are the first victims.
While Democrats and Republicans are passing the buck about who interfered the 2016 elections –Russia, according to every consistent source– very few people really understand what this kind of hacking is about.
Did they change my vote? Did people who don't exist vote? Were data deleted?
The answer is not so simple, and a long and detailed Politico report attempts to explain it.
During 2016, and especially during the days leading up to the U.S. presidential election, counties like Durham in North Carolina encountered problems with the software that handled the list of eligible voters.
This material, which contains all the voter data, is handled by a contractor located in Florida called VR Systems, which received reports that the software was working slowly, hindering preparations for Election Day.
No one knows for sure how the issue was resolved, but by November 8 the computers, with the software and data incorporated in hard drives, were ready to receive the voters.
"Almost immediately, though, a number of them exhibited problems," explains Politico. "Some crashed or froze. Others indicated that voters had already voted when they hadn’t. Others displayed an alert saying voters had to show ID before they could vote.”
Although state officials ordered manual voting in Durham County, the process slowed down to the point that many people got tired and went home without voting.
VR Systems was precisely the focus of phishing campaigns (computer abuse trying to get confidential information through fake digital profiles) orchestrated by Russia.
The company's employees received fake e-mails with damaged files that allowed access to information and systems.
Although the company has claimed that the campaign was unsuccessful, the evidence seems to say otherwise.
Months before the election, the same system was used to hack into the server of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
One need only remember the theft of thousands of emails from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by Russian hackers, who made them public through WikiLeaks.
However, the report by special attorney Robert Mueller insists that there is no evidence of vote tampering during the Russian attack.
The Mueller investigation sought to do justice by indicting Russian officials and agencies for interfering in the 2016 elections, arguing that the hackers had managed to undermine "at least one company" that creates the software to handle the voting process.
But despite warnings from the FBI in the months leading up to the election, nothing concrete could be done to prevent the strange traffic on the company's networks, and the government has given no sign that anything can be done to prevent a similar attack during the 2020 election.
According to the Washington Post, the army's Cyber Command is developing "information warfare tactics that could be deployed against senior Russian officials and oligarchs if Moscow tries to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.”
The idea, officials said in the media, would be "to show that the target's sensitive personal data could be attacked if the interference is not stopped.
In other words, we would be entering into a sort of digital version of the Cold War, where the threats are no longer nuclear warheads but information blackmail.
Will that be enough?