“Every kind of cyber operation—malicious or not—leaves a trail,” states a recent intelligence report on Russia’s influence campaign on US Elections 2016.
A declassified report of a classified assessment of Moscow’s hand in influencing US Elections 2016 was released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on 6th January 2017, and it has revealed how Moscow played a major role in hurting Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton’s, one shot at becoming the first lady president of the United States of America, and for all practical purposes, ending her long and illustrious political career forever.
Putin made it possible through cyber attacks, leaks, and a ferocious propaganda, and the American Intelligence Community is panicking more than ever now. To add to the pandemonium, just days before President-elect Donald Trump officially takes office, he is not exactly “Denying Russia’s role behind the hacking campaign,” says a Guardian report.
With this bombshell of a report now out in public domain and indications that Trump is gearing to pare down the CIA as soon as he takes over the reins from President Obama, the divide between the American Intelligence Community (the CIA, FBI, and NSA) and Trump is deepening more than ever.
The day this report was released, CIA’s former director, James Woolsey, quit Trump’s transition team, and a former acting director of CIA, Michael J Morell, denounced Trump in a New York Times op-ed.
How did Moscow manage to influence the psyche of a major chunk of the American population?
President-elect Donald Trump at a press conference in Florida
The report states the profuse use of cyber tools and media campaigns used by Russia that were intended as both, overt and covert means, to influence public opinion this US Elections 2016.
The operation included cyber espionage attacks against policy groups, US primary campaigns, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2015, as well as propaganda and online “troll” activity (paid social media users and Twitterbots) that included fake news meant to influence public opinion and “disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin.”
The ODNI report stated that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, aka the GRU, appears to have joined the activity around March of 2016. “We assess that the GRU operations resulted in the compromise of the personal e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures. By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC,” the report said.
Furthermore, the report stated with high confidence that the GRU used Guccifer 2.0 as a persona and DCLeaks.com to release compromised data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and also provided it to WikiLeaks.
“We assess, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments,” the report said.
“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.”
The report also confirmed that Russian intelligence acquired intel on multiple US state and local electoral boards. “Since early 2014, Russian intelligence has researched the US electoral processes and related technology and equipment. DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying,” according to the report.
With the report stating that this may have been the boldest effort by Moscow in 50 years to influence election outcomes, there are going to be repercussions to both, the President-elect Trump and the overall resilience of cyber security in the US.
The report came in a little bit too late in the day. Besides, there is no preventing Trump from taking office at this point, and while it’s impossible to know whether releasing information about Russia’s role sooner might have made a difference, we do know that the American people were not fully informed about the dangers of electing a compromised candidate this US Elections 2016.
For that matter, there is a reason to believe Clinton’s campaign was deliberately undermined by the baseless allegations about her e-mails just a week before election day. At his last press conference, in July, Trump said he hoped Russia would find and publish 30,000 emails from the private server used by Clinton when she was secretary of state. He later said this was a joke.
So in Obama’s words, “How do we make sure that democracy remains not only secure from vote tampering but also from propaganda that is being churned through the system by efforts of foreign players?”
Under the current law, election officials in most states don’t perform even basic checks to make sure that the results have not been modified by malware. What authorities in the US, and for that matter, across the world need to realize is that today cyber security is responsible for protecting much more than our IT systems; it also protects the way we live our lives.
US elections 2016 made us realize that cybersecurity is not only limited to credit and debit card frauds or hacking into voting machines. 2016 was about e-mails, no matter how secure we feel about them, are one of the most vulnerable, and paid users who steered public opinion in a particular direction.
How can e-mails be made safer in the wake of US elections 2016?
E-mails can be made safer only if the e-mail clients feature a robust security in place. E-mail providers like Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo mail may not be as safe as you think, as for all practical purposes, your web browser becomes your client in these cases. Whereas, e-mail providers like the Outlook Express, Thunderbird, The Bat, are software that are solely responsible for composing, sending, and receiving e-mails.
You can check how safe your e-mail client is by logging into a portal of databases called CERT developed by the Carnegie Mellon University. By far, The Bat, even though still in its infancy, has been rated best with the least number of vulnerabilities. Though, Outlook still ranks one as one of the safest and stable e-mail clients in use today.
Jim Clausing, the Technical Consultant of Network Security at AT&T says, “It’s best to read e-mail in plain text (as God intended).” That’s because HTML text often contains images, that for instance, can lead you to malicious websites. Most e-mail clients can protect against these problems, but it’s best to remain safe.
An e-mail anti-virus is a must, not only for scanning incoming messages but to also scan those going out. You need anti-spyware/adware software to scan your system for Trojans, and you need a firewall that will stop unauthorized applications trying to connect to the internet.
Also, it is a good idea to encrypt really sensitive e-mail too.
And as for people acting against their better judgments, President Obama sublimely puts it, “Everything’s true and everything’s false. You know, nothing is settled. Everything is contested.”
What’s done is done, Trump’s connection to Russia is public, and explanations will be needed. A press conference, after months, was organized earlier this week, and Trump threatened credible news sources like, CNN and BuzzFeed with dire consequences for the “alleged slander.” Time will only tell how popular Trump continues to remain with his continuing series of disgraces. (Heard of “Golden Showers”, yet?)
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