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In-Depth

Hack Attack: Unsound Bytes

With the rise in everything from baby monitors to smart TVs to home thermostats connected to the Internet, security risks have increased, too, and these risks are present in everyday activities on the web, from leaks to hacks and emails to elections. A large number of hacks took place during the presidential election season, with seemingly malicious intent to disrupt the stability of America’s democratic system, and these are suspected or confirmed of being politically motivated. Other security breaks come in the forms of information leaked from supposedly secure servers.

POLITICAL INTERRUPTION

One of the first leaks of this election cycle occurred in July, when emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were leaked on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Though never confirmed, the leaks were most likely initiated by Russia and targeted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “Some of the emails essentially had content that was anti-Bernie Sanders,” according to Government teacher Dan Fouts, “and seemed to be more of pro-Clinton writing.”

Knowing that the Democratic National Committee was potentially trying to sabotage Sanders “made the Bernie Sanders supporters very angry,” Fouts said. “If it was indeed Russia, the purpose of them doing that was to drive a wedge between Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary supporters, weakening the Democratic Party, thus making it easier for Trump to win.”

Many members of the media, especially election experts, believed that this hack was an effort on the part of foreign political powers to influence the American election. In fact, now president-elect Donald Trump encouraged Russians to hack into the Democrats’ emails.

The attacks on the Democratic side included more than just the DNC hack, however. The Democratic campaign was also the victim of several other hacks, such as an attack on Clinton’s email server, as well as the email servers of her campaign chair, John Podesta, and the interim DNC chair, Donna Brazile. These hacks revealed mostly innocuous information, but they also leaked Clinton’s personal schedules, the names and cellphone numbers of Secret Service agents and social security numbers of donors to the Clinton campaign, according to the New York Times.

ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

Many major American companies seem to have been affected by several attacks this year, as well as politicians themselves. Most infamously, the largest DDOS attack in history started in October and attacked websites all over the East coast, such as CNN, Time Warner and the New York Times. This followed the then-largest DDOS attack of all time in September, when Brian Krebs, a journalist and cybersecurity expert, had his website attacked, just after publishing an article on the takedown of vDOS, a major site that allowed DDOS attacks to be launched.

This sophisticated DDOS attack was later found out to be sent using the IP addresses from several thousand insecure Internet of Things devices, such as baby monitors, routers and security cameras found overseas in Japan. The Internet of Things (IOT) is the moniker given to the increased presence of electronic devices connected to the Internet. The IP addresses for several thousand of these cameras, made by the company Dyn, were used to bring down these websites. Even West has faced DDOS attacks. “The hackers flood the school’s internet connection with requests to prevent anyone from doing anything; it’s like clogging a drain,” West computer technician Dexter Roknich said.

In order to prevent the weaponization of such IOT devices in the future, the Federal Trade Commission plans to strengthen regulations in the U.S. and crack down on IOT manufacturers with low security against hacks.

WIKI-THREATS

Many of Clinton’s documents were released by an organization called WikiLeaks, which is run by Julian Assange. WikiLeaks has a history of releasing confidential documents to serve journalistic purposes. Lately, however, many have begun to feel that Assange is serving a political agenda as well. “It’s a war to get out information that is supportive of your bias,” Fouts said. “Hackers do that, and even if you’re not a hacker, if you put out any information, you’re trying to do that with a spin. It’s no different, this is just a little more clandestine, a little more secretive.”

Emails regarding transcripts of Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs and donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation have also been leaked. Security experts at the CIA have pinned the origin of the hacks on the Russian government, which is reported to be working with a hacker named Guccifer 2.0, who has taken credit for the attacks on the DNC. These attacks may have been perpetrated by Russia in order to interfere with the presidential election. Going forward, CIA operatives are more concerned with the security of government information.

According to Kalev Leetaru, cybersecurity expert and writer for Forbes, hackers have not even had much of an issue receiving government information. Hackers reportedly got ahold of a Department of Justice email account, and when asked for authentication, they “simply called up the person’s departmental helpdesk, claimed to be a new employee having trouble logging in and were helpfully given a login token to use,” he said.

The insecure nature of the government in recent years has led many to believe that security measures need to be increased. In an interview with Associated Press, Tony Scott, the U.S. Chief Information Officer, noted that the general model for security in the government is that “every agency, and in some cases, sub-agency, is building their cyber defenses on their own. That’s just frankly a bad model of how to defend against these critical adversaries.”

In response to these apparent weaknesses in government security, the President’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity was formed on April 13, 2016. The goal of the commission is to increase the level of cybersecurity, both inside and outside of the government, halt any malicious cyber activity aimed at the United States and recover easily from cyber incidents, all of which have been goals of President Obama since he initially took office, according to Michael Daniel, Ed Felten and Tony Scott, cybersecurity experts of whitehouse.gov.

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