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Are Cyber Criminals Influencing the 2016 Presidential Election?

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Are Cyber Criminals Influencing the 2016 Presidential Election?

August 16, 2016
By Michael Guta
Contributing Writer

This presidential election cycle in the United States has been like no other in the history of the country.  And, as we wait to see who will take office in November, the subject of cyber security has become part of the narrative. The high-profile breach of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network and the subsequent release of its email by WikiLeaks has government officials and pundits asking whether the cyber criminals responsible for this breach are influencing the 2016 presidential election.

A survey just released by Tripwire (News - Alert), a global provider of endpoint detection and response, security and compliance solutions, revealed 63 percent of its respondents believed that indeed, cyber criminals were attempting to influence the outcome of the upcoming election.

The survey was conducted of industry experts, so the answers come from individuals that were fully aware of the damage cyber criminals are capable of. Tripwire conducted the survey of 220 information security professionals who attended Black Hat USA 2016 in Las Vegas earlier this month.

While on the same topic Tripwire also asked the following two questions:

  1. The 2016 GOP platform states that victims of cyber attacks should have "a self defense right to retaliate." Do you think this will improve national or global cyber security? A majority, or 55 percent, said YES.
  2. Should state-sponsored attacks on elections be considered acts of cyber war? An overwhelming 82 percent said YES.

The DNC's security breach is being investigated by the FBI. However, the vast majority of experts in the public and private segments have expressed their opinion all pointing to Russia as the culprit, although irrefutable evidence remains elusive.  .

In addressing the influence of a foreign government in the current presidential election, Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy for Tripwire, said, "This is an unprecedented moment in both politics and information security."

Erlin goes on to say, "A foreign power possibly influencing the U.S. presidential election through electronic means is a game changer for information security professionals. While the DNC attack is the most visible, it's not the first incident. We've been building up to this type of event for a number of years."

The issue of retaliating against the perpetrator of a cyber attack is difficult at best because finding the culprit is a difficult proposition. Dwayne Melancon, chief technology officer and vice president of research and development for Tripwire put it best when he said, "Attribution of cyber attacks is very difficult. For example, investigations sometimes discover that attacks appearing to come from other countries actually have a command and control base in the U.S., and vice versa. If a cyber attack escalates into war or retribution, you'd better be certain of its origin."

Even though the vast majority of the respondents believe there should be some retaliatory response, the execution could prove to be very difficult. As Erlin concluded, "It's time for the conversation to move beyond true and false to defining an appropriate cyber war response.”

Edited by Peter Bernstein

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