U.S. mulls how to respond to Russian interference in the U.S. elections

The United States earlier this week has accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. electoral process. Cyber experts found the digital fingerprints of two Russian government hacker groups were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the Clinton campaign, but it was still a major step for the United States officially and formally to charge that Russia was behind the hacking – an unmistakable evidence that Russia was throwing its weight behind one of the candidates.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest was clear about the administration’s determination to respond to the Russian hacks.

“With regard to a response, we obviously will ensure that a U.S. response is proportional. It is unlikely that our response would be announced in advance,” he said.

“It’s certainly possible that the president could choose response options that we never announce. The president has talked before about the significant capabilities that the US government has to both defend our systems in the United States, but also carry out offensive operations in other countries. So there are a range of responses that are available to the president, and he will consider a response that’s proportional.”

Three cyber experts shared their thoughts about the Russian hacking with the Guardian.

Rob Guidry, CEO of social media analytics company Sc2 and a former special adviser to U.S. Central Command, says the hacks have created a dilemma for American voters. Voters may be interested in the information the hackers stole from the Clinton campaign and released through WikiLeaks, but the same voters may feel uncomfortable with the hacks that have brought the information to light.

“What I find most intriguing about this is that many establishment outlets — including Fox News — are now actively turning to WikiLeaks and others for information that used to be provided by freedom of information requests,” he said. “It’s a rather strange turn of events.”

Malcolm Nance, a former naval intelligence officer and author of the just-published The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election (Skyhorse Publishing, October 2016), says that the strategy behind the timing of the release of the hacked e-mails is deliberate, as is the fact that the latest leaks mix false information with text extracted from real, stolen e-mails. “This is a slow-roll political attack on the entire political infrastructure of America. It is Watergate — it’s literally Watergate. They did what Nixon couldn’t do.”

Richard Stiennon, Chief Strategy Officer at Blancco Technology Group and author of There Will Be Cyberwar: How the Move to Network-Centric War Fighting Has Set the Stage for Cyberwar (IT-Harvest Press, march 2015), says that the fact that the U.S. government has publicly declared what the U.S. intelligence community had known for while – that Russian government hackers are behind the systemic campaign to throw the election to Trump — is significant, because there is nothing new in what the Russian government has done in the 2016 election cycle.

“Russian interference with U.S. elections is not ‘heating up’ per se, as much as it’s coming out of the shadows,” says Stiennon. “Hacking the DNC and Democratic congressional campaigns and then the leaking of stolen e-mails is somewhat ham-fisted, but it’s an escalation of Russian disinformation campaigns,” he said.

Stiennon warned that one disturbing aspect of Russia’s efforts could be to cause Americans to question the validity of the results of their presidential election.

“The probing of at least twenty-three election operations in various U.S.states could lead to mistrust in election results if the election is close — think digital hanging chads,” he said. “The gloves are coming off as the tools of cybercrime are merging with the tools of information disruption. The blatant attacks on U.S. elections — and political officials — is just one element as continued hacking and doxxing [releasing stolen documents] ofU.S. officials and agencies serves to embarrass the Obama administration.

“After the elections, the new administration will have to be prepared for even further escalations.”

For more on Cybersecurity, Homeland Security News Wire

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