International politics are always a matter of leverage. Every time people vote to choose a president in a specific country, the world is watching: potential commercial, financial, social, and financial alliances can surge, develop, or break depending on the outcome, and that is precisely why nations, entities or agencies that would like to retain or obtain leverage have discovered that they can perform election hacking and interfere with the results of the process.
It is a dirty strategy, and that is not up for debate, but it is happening more than ever because the Internet has given hackers more than enough tools to alter the course of an election process, as it occurred with the US presidential elections in 2016.
In the presidential elections held in the United States of America back in 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and became the leader of the nation. However, accusations of Russian espionage activities made by the Congress and the Department of Investigations revealed horrifying details.
A similar scenario took place in France. Thankfully, people there had better luck and were more prepared to fend off Russian attempts to manipulate the digital world to alter the outcome of the process.
In both cases, Russian hackers – presumably, related to Vladimir Putin’s government – attempted to use dirty tactics to influence people and systems in the election: they published top secret and compromising conversations between high ranked officials, they got into networks and systems controlled by the state to post fake news, they bought Facebook ads, and they employed bots to spread the phony news pieces, among other things. It was a complete cyber attack.
Cyber defense is the best way to defend against most of those antics. The French intelligence, for example, watched for Russian cyber activity for the duration of the campaign of Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
Here are some of the strategies that the French employed to fend off Russian cyber attacks:
- Letting the hackers steal fake files and documents, misleading them and making them waste their time
- Embed beacons that can disclose the attackers’ current location
- Try to enter the hackers’ networks, with the possibility of deleting stolen information
- Create false email accounts
- Introduce fake documents and files that discourage the attackers.
What is election hacking?
By election hacking, the industry refers to any attempt to use malicious software or tactics to try to interfere with the outcome of a democratic election process in any part of the world. It is mostly done to ensure that one specific candidate gets favored, and the reasons behind it can vary from social, religious, political, diplomatic, environmental, financial, and others.
Election hacking is also called electoral fraud and is viewed as a severe crime in most countries. If done successfully, the process can affect how people vote and the overall results of the course of action.
In election hacking, cybercriminals use all types of resources to accomplish their goals: phishing, SMSishing, fraud, scams, filtered documents, stolen data, bots, social media fraud, taking advantage of flaws in security systems, and everything that can fit into a human mind’s imagination.
Tactics before the election’s day
The most common strategy that hackers implement to try to influence the mind of potential voters is social media manipulation. These professionals deploy fake Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts to post false information that can change people’s mind when it comes to their vote, praising a specific candidate or “badmouthing” the other.
Those accounts can appear legitimate, and they will manipulate or twist the facts to make them favor their desired candidate. Bots are some of the most potent “influencers” before an election process. Another known approach is applying the “divide and conquer” premise: splitting the opposition works almost every time.
Tactics during the election
Interfering with the voting machines is a very efficient method of election hacking since once done, it doesn’t matter which candidate you vote for: the device will pick the one that cybercriminal configured to choose.
Bloomberg reported in 2017 that Russian hackers managed to exploit the voting system in 39 of the 50 US states during the 2016 elections, tampering a total of 30 machines. Causing mass disruption is another effective strategy of election hacking if done in the right locations. DDoS attacks can work, as well.
How can election hacking be avoided?
- Replace old machines: not only are new voting machines needed, but they also need to have up-to-date security systems with no possible cracks or vulnerabilities.
- A safer database: In some countries, there are numerous irregularities with the voter database: in Venezuela, there have been rumors that, in recent elections, people used invalid IDs to vote, or the same person voted multiple times. The voter database should be encrypted and managed through secure servers while minimizing data leakage.
- Better auditing measures: Auditing methods should exist to detect and stop tampering on the machines. They need to be tested with regularity, and if they don’t work or have a security vulnerability, they ought to be replaced.
The use of a VPN to defeat election hacking
Virtual Private Networks, or VPN, are online tools that allow the user to encrypt the content it generates on the Internet, as well as its location, sending the information to remote servers away from sneaky hands or malicious agents, such as hackers.
VPNs provide security and privacy, and they can work seamlessly in cyber defense to avoid election hacking. They can encrypt the voter database and sending the necessary information to secure servers managed by the organism in charge of handling the election process in an impartial, clean way.
The VPN technology and its tunneling protocols can also help the organism avoid DDoS attacks and minimize data leaks, which hackers are eager to take advantage of if they want to interfere with a specific process. TorGuard, being an online security company with years of experience in the area, is the most recommended app to secure sensitive information traveling around the server on the web.
TorGuard implements 256-bit encryption, the safest in the industry, with sound privacy statements and responsible data management. There are no leaks thanks to the DNS leak protection, and the customer service is top-notch.
In conclusion, election hacking is a dangerous proposition that can have an enormous impact in the present and future of an entire nation. It should be avoided at all costs, and VPN technology can provide contributions to stop it.