US Election Hacking Allegations
Several news outlets reported earlier this week that a “team of prominent computer scientists” had uncovered “persuasive evidence” that the recent US federal election had been hacked.
As far as Reflare was able to uncover, the story was first reported by New York Magazine.
While the story itself has been thoroughly debunked by various other outlets, we will take this opportunity to highlight how unreliable news items such as this one can be identified.
1) An empty claim of experts
Any article claiming that an otherwise unspecified “team of experts” has determined something should raise a red flag. Especially if the actual experts are never named, or if no direct quotes are given. In the New York Magazine article in question, a panel of “prominent computer scientists” was advertised in the heading and opening but the only members of the team identified by name were legal activists.
2) Activist sources
Especially in the current highly polarized political environment, any statements made by self-styled activists need to be confirmed by hard evidence or an independent and authoritative source to have credibility.
3) No hard proof
While, as we we have pointed out in previous articles, identifying the party responsible for a cyber attack is often impossible due to the anonymous nature of such attacks, identifying that an attack has taken place is much easier. It is highly unlikely for reputable experts in the field to raise allegations of hacking unless hard proof of an attack can be found. The article in question goes on to clarify that no such proof exists.
4) A mixing of definitions for “hack”
In colloquial English, the word “hack” has acquired at least 4 common meanings:
- To chop
- To break into a computer system
- To code quickly and sloppily (e.g. to build a prototype, “hackathon”)
- A shortcut or advantageous behavior pattern (e.g. “lifehack”)
Serious sources of information will only report about one of these topics at once.
If the different meanings are being mixed, the sources is either intentionally deceptive or unable to distinguish between them. In both cases, the information should be discarded.
It is important to note that the poor quality of the article published in New York Magazine and many other outlets in no way present proof that cyber attacks against elections could not have taken place or is unlikely to take place in the future.
We expect that many more similar articles will be published in the coming months as the re-balancing of the roles of traditional news media and social media and the current buzz of and around fake news continues until the average citizen becomes media aware enough to dismiss shaky information.