As incidents involving the criminal act of hacking have grown in frequency, the scope and potential reach of this modern crime had perhaps its most notable episode in the presidential election of 2016.
One of the main themes of what seemed to be the never-ending Mueller Investigation into Russian interference during that Election was the fact that the US intelligence community concluded with “high confidence” that in January of 2017, elements connected to the Russian government engaged in a hacking operation that some revisionist historians on the left claim turned the election on its head. This interference occurred in the form of an email phishing campaign that managed to hack into the computer servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as well as the personal Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
The information obtained as a result of this hack would be infamously broadcasted globally via WikiLeaks, in one of the activist groups most well-known data coups. It included many embarrassing communications that highlighted the racist nature of many high-ranking DNC operatives.
In the 2018 midterms, America mostly dodged the threat posed by hackers, as a report from former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to the White House confirmed. US intelligence officials were not able to find any evidence that digital voting systems had been compromised in any way, although the scourge of social media disinformation aimed at American voters that had been prevalent in 2016 had continued to occur.
Now, in advance of what is sure to be one of the most unique elections in American history as a result of the enduring Coronavirus Pandemic, the question of maintaining the integrity and safety of our election process against hacking has once again reared it’s ugly head as the President was called out by name in one of the most brazen hacking attacks in recent memory.
The attack, which targeted one of the premier entertainment lawyers in the world, Allen Grubman, of the firm Grubman, Shire, Meiselas and Sacks, yielded hackers a whopping 756MB of data, including legal secrets, confidential documents, contracts and personal e-mails from celebrities in the entertainment industry. The firm’s client base includes luminaries such as Lady Gaga, Madonna, Mariah Carey, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Priyanka Chopra, Elton John, Robert De Niro and Bette Midler.
But one “celebrity” involved in the attacks name truly jumps off the page - President Donald Trump. As a condition of non-payment of the ransom demand of a staggering $42?million, the hackers have been threatening to reveal some so-called “dirty laundry” on President Donald Trump if they are not paid in full.
In an effort to prove that they are not bluffing, the hacking group, which is known as REvil, have released links to three dark web downloads along with a password to access them. In a statement from the hackers that was published by Forbes, the hackers state, “We read the position of the authorities. Declare this an act of terrorism. Your position is your choice. This will not affect our work in any way. It’s just that it can completely erase certain frames that we still observed. But now is not about that. Mr. Lawyer says that Donald has never been their client. And he says that we are bluffing. Oh well. The first part, with the most harmless information, we will post here."
Additionally, REvil advised President Trump to “poke a sharp stick at the guys” in order to compel the law firm to pay the ransom. They then sent a message directly to voters saying “we can let you know that after such a publication, you certainly [won’t] want to see him (Trump) as president.”
The emails did mention the President, and as promised, were benign. But one must wonder what secrets or damaging information may potentially come out as a result of this data breach. Will REvil release information so powerful that it may potentially sway voters this November? Have they contacted entities opposed to the Trump administration that they can possibly coordinate an “October Surprise” with?
“Dirty Laundry” has long been a powerful commodity in election politics. Democrats will yell until they are blue in the face, that the publishing of the DNC’s emails by Wikileaks had a devastating effect on Hillary Clinton’s electability in 2016. Whether or not a similar fate awaits President Trump in 2020 remains to be seen, but one thing that must be acknowledged is that “opposition research” continues to cross the lines of ethics and legality.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by websites including The Hill, Real Clear Politics, Townhall and American Thinker.