Hacking democracy

hack-politicsIn the United States, the current presidential campaign is like nothing the country—indeed, the world—has ever seen.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t write about politics in this blog unless there was a compelling technological aspect to the story.

Turns out, there is. And it has to do with how hacking is turning our political world upside down. In case you’ve been snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or sunbathing in the Seychelles for the last six months, you might not have heard about it.

No longer, it seems, can politics operate under cover of darkness. The release of sensitive political information by hacker groups is having an impact on the current presidential campaign. And there may be more to emerge before election day—Tuesday, November 8—rolls around.

DNC e-mail breach 

Perhaps the story that kicked off this whole subject, at least this year, were the revelations that came out as a result of the Democratic National Committee e-mail hacks.

w-schultz-sandersWe’ll talk about who was responsible for the hacks later, but an anonymous group released volumes of e-mails between various members of the DNC, led by then-head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Shultz.

Seems DNC officials, led by Wasserman Shultz, were strategizing against Bernie Sanders, looking for ways to undermine his candidacy—rather than just letting the process unfold—you know—democratically.

As scandals go, it wasn’t that egregious. After all, Clinton had a substantial lead in the polls and in delegates, and looked like the eventual presumptive nominee. But Sanders, reportedly, was livid, and Wasserman Shultz eventually resigned as DNC chair.

Although there were no e-mails suggesting Hillary Clinton, herself, was involved in this process, it certainly threw some unnecessary shade on her candidacy. In addition, even though Sanders has endorsed Clinton for the presidency, he hasn’t seemed to be all that enthusiastic about it until lately.

Hillary’s own e-mail woes

And speaking of e-mails, candidate Clinton hasn’t exactly helped herself. After the revelations of her maintaining her own private server, across which some number of classified State Department e-mails were reportedly sent, all hell broke loose.

hillary-clinton-blackberryAnd, just an aside about so-called secure government e-mail servers: they aren’t necessarily any more secure, and could be less secure, than Clinton’s private server.

Nonetheless, Clinton was investigated by the FBI. Eventually, she was, for all intents and purposes, exonerated of any prosecutable offense, although the FBI said that she and her team were “extremely careless.”

Clinton and her e-mail practices may now reportedly be further investigated at the request of the Republican-led Congress, cheered on, no doubt, by Donald Trump, her Republican opponent in the presidential election.

My own personal opinion: she screwed up. But her mistakes pale in comparison to those of her infamous opponent, Trump.

Words have consequences

Speaking of Trump, he notoriously called on Russia to find the 30,000 private e-mails that Clinton has said were deleted from her home-based server. Of course, later he said he was joking.

trumpStill,  many of Trump’s statements during the campaign have been controversial, head-scratching, and even dangerous. (Take a look here for Keith Olbermann’s both funny and scary recitation on this.)

Like the time Trump said he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe to fight ISIS.

Or when he says the election is going to be rigged. This has spurred at least one of his fellow Republicans to say there would be blood in the streets if Trump didn’t win.

Or like the time he said he’d blow Iran’s “little boats” out of the water if they continued to taunt our “big, beautiful destroyers.”

Or when he says second amendment people might do something about Hillary Clinton’s judicial appointments. Shoot her, apparently.

As Clinton, President Obama, and other reasonable people have said, words have consequences.

Speaking of rigged elections

But getting back to technology, and possibly rigged elections, there has been some fearful speculation about our voter registration databases, and even electronic voting machines, being hacked.

homeland-security-logoTwo recent incidences, one in Arizona, and one in Illinois, have surfaced. In both cases, hackers managed to penetrate voter databases, but failed to do any real damage.

Nonetheless, the hacks raise further concerns that a foreign government, or governments, is trying to compromise elections, or at least cause chaos.

Imagine showing up at the polls, and having had your name removed from the voter registration database. Now multiply that by millions of voters. Not a comforting thought.

Electronic voting machines have been around for awhile, and different states are using different models. Although the machines generally aren’t connected directly to the Internet, it’s unclear how secure the machines are when not being used for an election.

One academician has gotten his hands on an electronic voting machine, and apparently it took him only about seven minutes to replace computer chips in the machine with modified versions. So, get your hands on the machines while no one is looking, and you might be able to rig an election, it appears.

While voting commissions are working with Homeland Security to build in safeguards for all kinds of cyber-attacks, even the scent of compromised voter databases or electronic voting machines could factor into Americans worrying about the legitimacy of the vote, whoever is declared the winner.

This ain’t rocket science, folks, but it should be treated with as much importance. Apparently, it is starting to get some attention.

Colin Powell e-mail hacks

And while we’re talking about influencing an election, perhaps the most respected statesman in America, Colin Powell, might be wishing for a more secure medium than e-mail to have expressed some of his frankest opinions about our current presidential candidates.

colin-powellPowell’s Google (gmail) account was hacked and a number of his personal emails were leaked. The emails were reportedly given to activist group DCLeaks by unnamed hackers, and leaked last week.

A Powell spokesperson confirmed that the emails were legitimate and that Powell’s gmail account had been compromised.

In the emails, the former four-star Army general and Secretary of State doesn’t mince words when he referred to Trump as “a national disgrace.”

Regarding Clinton, Powell reportedly said “every thing she touches, she kind of screws up with hubris.”

Harsh words. Maybe they’ll cause the candidates to look inward a bit. Nah, probably not.

The culprits?

Reportedly, there’s evidence that the email hacks, and the attempts at compromising voter registration databases, originated out of Russia.

trump-putin-muralIt seems that Vladimir Putin would enjoy influencing the democratic process in the U.S. There certainly are indications that Putin would prefer Trump as our next president, as well. Kind of a bromance going on between these two, it would seem.

Why? Because Putin sees Trump as someone who can be manipulated, and Clinton as a more formidable foe.

And Clinton sees Putin as a ruthless autocrat seeking to restore Russia to the glory days of the Cold War. Said Clinton earlier this year, “I don’t admire very much about Mr. Putin…[his objective] is to stymie, to confront, to undermine American power whenever and wherever he can.”

How does Trump view Putin?

2007: “He’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.”

2011: “I respect Putin and Russians but cannot believe our leader (Obama) allows them to get away with so much…Hats off to the Russians.”

2013: “I think [Putin’s] done really a great job of outsmarting our country.”

2015: “I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so.”

2016: “I don’t think he has any respect for Clinton. I think he respects me. I think it would be great to get along with him.”

2016: “Certainly in Russia’s system, Putin’s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.”

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that he’s on record as having said these and many other controversial things. He’s always denying one thing or another, like having originally opposed the war in Iraq, when he’s on tape saying he supported it.

Would a pathological liar in the White House be an issue? There are plenty of experienced former and current U.S. intelligence officials who believe a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the nation.

Putin, however, thinks a Trump presidency would be just great.