Germany warns of Russian hackers as election looms

News by Max Metzger

Germany is the latest country to express concerns over foreign cyber-interference in the country's upcoming Bundestag elections in September 2017

A German Intelligence chief has warned of Russian attempts to influence the country during the September 2017 election.

The head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen, released a statement on 8 December. 

He explained: "Propaganda and disinformation, cyber-attacks, cyber-spying and Cyber-sabotage (are) part of the hybrid threat to Western democracies.”

He highlighted Russian operations on social media having a large effect on opinion forming as well as threats to politicians or government employees with the intention of destabilising Germany and the Federal Republic's political establishment.

The intelligence agency mentioned that it had witnessed a large uptick in Russian cyber activity against German targets since the start of the Ukrainian conflict. These activities are often backed by significant financial resources, and with the aim of empowering extremist groups within the country, influencing political discourse and discrediting orthodox political parties.

The last year has seen many such accusations, and not without cause.  Earlier in the election, a hacktivist named Guccifer 2.0 claimed to have hacked into the Democratic National Committee, the executive body of the Democratic Party. The subsequent leak of documents from that breach showed leading officials within the party to heavily favour insider candidate, Hillary Clinton against her primary contender, Bernie Sanders.

A variety of security companies came out shortly after, saying they had traced it back to Russian groups.  

The chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, John Podesta, was later phished and his emails leaked online. Contained within were details of Clinton's ties with foreign powers as well as details of her infamous heretofore undisclosed speech to Goldman Sachs.

In this case, security companies which analysed the leak said that they had also traced the culprits back to Russia.

The US Central Intelligence Agency recently released a report saying that Russian hackers had attempted to influence the election in president-elect Donald Trump's favour. The agency claim to have found links between the leaks and individuals affiliated with the Russian government.

The report stated that the breaches were carried out not just to undermine confidence in the electoral system, but to actively influence the outcome.

One senior intelligence official told the Washington Post that, “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia's goal here was to favour one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,”

It was not long after Podesta's emails had been leaked that Joe Biden, the vice president promised retaliation.

In the case of Germany, Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said that Russia was also bracing for foreign cyber-interference in its next election.

This kind of meddling is perhaps to be expected, Brian Chappell director of technical Services EMEAI & APAC at BeyondTrust told SC Media UK it's only the platform that's new: “I believe that most major governments have meddled in the political landscape of others since the dawn of politics, cyber-crime simply offers the latest arena for that to play out.”

“Rather than pointing fingers” said Chappell, “I'd like to hear how governments are working to prevent direct hacking and to mitigate misinformation through social media, otherwise it feels a little like setting yourself up to decry any outcome you don't agree with as the result of hacking.”

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