Can a Cyber Attack on Journalists Influence the Election?

By Kevin Eck 

In the wake of last night’s presidential debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sparring over Russia’s attempt to influence the upcoming election through cyber attacks, POLITICO reports journalists should be prepared for what may happen on election day.

“Journalists are seen as especially vulnerable soft targets for hackers,” writes POLITICO. “Their computers contain the kinds of notes, story ideas and high-powered contact lists coveted by foreign intelligence services.”

Senior U.S. officials, current and former lawmakers and cybersecurity pros told POLITICO the threat against the media is real — and they fret the consequences. Specifically, the security community is worried The Associated Press’ army of reporters could get hacked and the wire service — the newsroom that produces the results data on which the entire media world relies — inadvertently starts releasing manipulated election tallies or that cybercriminals penetrate CNN’s internal networks and change Wolf Blitzer’s teleprompter.

Though news organizations have safeguards in place, cyber security experts warn all the preparation in the world may be of little use when you’re being hacked by a state run organization.

“If all of a sudden your adversary becomes a nation-state, like Sony or the DNC with Russia, you see those kind of procedures aren’t worth a darn,” said former FBI cyber official Robert Anderson.

Federal and state officials stress that even a successful hack on a major news outlet around Election Day would not affect the final results, which typically take weeks to certify. The vote tallies, after all, will be available on official sites and in many instances on special social media feeds. And if a news site did get defaced with incorrect information, the results would be more like a modern-day version of the famous ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ headline that President Harry Truman triumphantly held aloft the day after his 1948 reelection.

“Misinformation circulated in the early hours of Nov. 8 about the race’s trajectory, for example, could factor into a voter’s decision to even show up during the election’s final hours, especially in Western states,” reports Politico. “There’s also concern that false media reports spread via a hacked news account could be a potential spark for violence in an already exceptionally charged atmosphere. On the flip side, there’s a recognition that the media can help build public confidence in the final results, especially following a campaign that’s been engulfed in its closing weeks by Russian-sponsored hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman’s personal emails, and Donald Trump’s unfounded charges of vote rigging.”