Recent statements made by our President in Helsinki seem to deny that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, but what exactly happened during the 2016 election? Almost two years have passed since then, rendering the details of the incidents largely forgotten outside of the ongoing investigation and indictments. However, the tactics and parties involved could very well resurface in the upcoming 2018 election, making it important to know just what went on during these cyberattacks.
Intelligence experts all seem to agree that in 2016, Russian hackers launched numerous cyberattacks with the goal to damage and undermine the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and other candidates. This was done by hacking email servers and targeting other key campaign member’s email accounts. Any stolen emails and documents were then distributed to WikiLeaks.
This was only part of the 2016 attack strategy. Trolls and troll factories—Russian hackers and bots with fake social media accounts—released and amplified fake news stories to sway voters’ opinions, create mistrust, and stir civil unrest.
Looking forward to the 2018 November midterm election, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 Senate seats will be contested. The feeling is this is a good opportunity for the Democrats to win back at least one side of Congress from the Republicans, making this an extremely important election for all parties. Following the 2016 election cyberattack patterns, there have already been reports of hackers launching spear-phishing (email spoofing) campaigns against three reelection candidates. This appears only to be the beginning of the reports with the election almost three months away.
Despite the targeted attacks, there are things people can do to combat the spread of fake news stories. Facebook now has built-in mechanisms for reporting bogus stories. This includes a partnership with FactCheck.org, which has several guides and tools, as well as an Ask a Question feature and a Fake News page, to determine a story’s legitimacy.
Time will tell if the heightened awareness in the media and intelligence communities—and the billions spent by Facebook and Google—will be enough to keep this election interference free.