The US Response to Cyber Attacks
The cyber attacks against US media, government and government-related institutions continue to dominate the news this week.
With the US election on the horizon and much of the election infrastructure being run by computers, for the first time in history the concept of an election being hacked appears reasonable to the average voter.
The US government appears to share these fears.
An FBI investigation into alleged unauthorized accesses of local voter databases is ongoing and members of the Democratic Party have requested the FBI to look into wether Republican Party nominee Donald Trump is involved in recent hacks of the DNC allegedly performed by Russian hackers.
Both points deserve a deeper review.
The hacking of local government systems is the next logical step when following a strategy of hitting soft targets for maximum impact. While local government agencies are technical required to comply with a number of IT security regulations, said implementation and its enforcement is spotty at best.
This makes local government actors relatively easy targets with high impact.
It is also possible that an attacker may target electronic voting machines run by local governments to falsify voting results. Attacks against such machines have been repeatedly reported and demonstrate but have so far not been observed in the wild.
An inquiry into a connection between Mr. Trump and foreign hackers appears to be a largely political move. As we have outlined in previous issues, the best way to mitigate the damage caused by cyber attacks is to blame them on a convenient adversary.
We currently have not seen evidence that would prove or disprove the involvement of the Russian government in the recent attacks against US systems. While a Russian involvement thus cannot be ruled out, the current vocal allegations made by US officials seem to be aimed at calming the general population and mitigating damage from the TAO leaks.
We will keep you updated when and if more specific proof emerges.
At this point in time, the hacking of an election in a first world nation seems unlikely. It would also be unprecedented. That said, it is certainly possible on a technical level and the recent incidents show that attackers have started to take a strong interest in impacting foreign governments through soft targets.
Wether an attack will be able to successfully impact the US election and wether such an attack would be state-sponsored remains to be seen.
What is abundantly clear however is that this election will elevate cyber attacks from obscure items to household topics in US and potentially international politics.