5 Ways Hackers Could Influence the Election

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When Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump said he hoped the Russian government had found Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails, he wasn’t just taking a swipe at his opponent. He highlighted a very real and present danger to our democracy.

While social media users were atwitter about whether or not The Donald had committed treason—for the record, he didn’t—I don’t know if his quasi-seditious braggadocio reveals anything about his loyalty to the country he hopes to represent at home and abroad. Personally, it made me wonder about his fitness to lead a nation daily engaged in cyber military operations that almost certainly make the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program look like Day One.

And far more importantly, it made me question whether Trump understands just how serious the threat of hacking is — and that such a lack of understanding could cost him the election.

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

We now have fresh evidence that suggests Russia (its leader, an apparent fan of the Republican nominee) hacked the DNC, and that another incursion into the computer systems used by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign (as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) discovered days later also appeared to be the work of a Russian government agency, according to The New York Times.

If the idea of a foreign country influencing the outcome of the 2016 race is both slightly terrifying and gets your patriotic juices flowing, consider that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has also suggested he intends to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, also according to the Times.

The problem of hacking with regard to this election, however, is far from contained to espionage for advantage and the caprices of self-proclaimed moral crusaders.

Here are five other ways hacking could influence the election. 

1. Hacker Fraud

Currently 25 states accommodate voters who qualify to cast a ballot through either a website or via email. And then there’s online voter registration. Each of these conveniences carries with it the potential for subversion and exploitation.

It’s also worth noting that our most sacred right in this nation does not enjoy protection from Homeland Security. Each state runs its own voting, and cyber security competence is something that varies greatly from state to state.

2. Rigged Voting Machines

Not all states “airgap” their voting machines. Airgapping means the machines are never connected to the Internet, and thus are much harder to compromise.

While there isn’t anything precluding a hacker from attempting to rig a machine one way or another, an article on the left-leaning CounterPunch site, argued that the states where machines are most vulnerable to compromise lean anti-Clinton.

3. Registration Information

When Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center earlier this year lost access to crucial files to hackers, they had to pay a ransom of $17,000. What happens if a similar attack on a state’s voter information is successful? Here too, Homeland Security has no oversight, and state cyber security protocols vary widely.

4. Campaign Data

As Julian Assange has clearly demonstrated, the incredibly rich, granular and varied personal information that political campaigns collect to better target potential voters is not sufficiently protected from outside malefactors.

5. Voter Suppression

One thing that hackers do particularly well is spam, and doubtless there are numerous email lists that target particular demographics in crucial voting districts. All that needs to happen here is a little misinformation: maybe the spam says your polling station is closed, or due to a terrorist threat there may be delays. It doesn’t take much to discourage potential voters.

Is This a Job for Homeland Security?

With both candidates receiving daily intelligence briefings, it seems like a good time to wonder out loud about the security of that information, since strategies and messaging based on it will almost certainly be emailed among campaign staff and stored on campaign servers.

While there is wisdom in the states controlling their own voting systems that finds its origins in our Constitution, there is also a new threat out there. And while I’m not sure it makes sense to put voting under the control of a federal entity, it might benefit from greater oversight.

As Stewart Baker, a former top guy at Homeland Security and the National Security Administration said recently regarding the cyber threat in this election: “It’s hanging chads weaponized.”

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: Pamela Moore

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Donald Trump Allegedly Hacked: Cellphone & Social Security Number Compromised

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In a YouTube video released Thursday, hacking group Anonymous claims to have compromised Donald Trump.

Just two weeks after Anonymous promised a war against the leading Republican presidential candidate, the group released documents that allegedly include Trump’s Social Security number, cellphone number, birth date, children’s names and other pieces of personal information.

The group said in the video it opposes Trump due to his “agenda of fascism and xenophobia.”

Trump’s campaign released a statement on the hack, saying “The government and law enforcement authorities are seeking the arrest of the people responsible for attempting to illegally hack Mr. Trump’s accounts and telephone information.”

Getting hacked is no new trend for politicians. In 2013, the credit reports of First Lady Michelle Obama and FBI Director Robert Mueller were allegedly posted online. And with the amount of information readily available for political candidates online — you can find Trump’s birth date, children’s names and full legal name easily on his Wikipedia page, for example — it’s not even that surprising that a high-profile individual could be hacked.

But there are a few things the little guys can do to make sure you don’t get “Trumped.” Adam Levin, identity theft expert and co-founder of Credit.com, recommends the three Ms technique to identity theft protection. Those three Ms are:

You may not be lucky enough to have the resources like Trump has to be able to fix any identity theft damage, so it’s important to do what you can to make yourself a harder target.

More on Identity Theft:

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For Mac Users, The Security Bubble Has Burst

Apple’s Mac operating systems are known for their resistance to malware, viruses, hackers and ransomware, which is one reason many people opt for Mac computers.

Still, they’re not invincible, and as a security company recently reported, Mac users should be aware of potential threats. Researchers at Palo Alto Networks reported finding “the first fully functional ransomware seen on the OS X platform,” according to a March 6 post on their site.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is what it sounds like: Cyber criminals infiltrate your computer and hold it (or more specifically, its data) hostage. They demand you pay them if you ever want your files back. They often want payment in digital currency like Bitcoin, because these transactions are difficult to trace — and it’s a hassle for the victim to acquire and transfer.

Apple did not immediately respond to request for comment on the reported attack. However, Palo Alto said in its blog post that, after it reported the occurrence to Apple, the Mac maker shut down the infiltration and updated its anti-virus system.

How to Protect Yourself

Ransomware attacks can be particularly stressful for consumers if the stolen data includes personal information, work data or irreplaceable files (think photos). Not only is this a case to back up your hard drive, it’s also a reminder that you may want to install anti-virus software or malware protection on your computer, no matter how secure you think it is.

Guarding your personal information is no joke. Losing your sensitive information to a criminal puts you at risk for identity theft. It can take a lot of time and money to recover from identity theft, not to mention the credit damage you might suffer. On top of that, if someone gets access to your Social Security number, the risk of fraud never goes away, because the Social Security Administration rarely changes numbers.

Protecting your devices goes hand-in-hand with habits like reviewing your financial accounts for unauthorized activity and monitoring your credit for signs of fraud. (You can see a free summary of your credit report, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

Taking steps to prevent cyberattacks is important, but so is having a plan for how to deal with one if it happens. Ideally, such planning will make the incident less stressful and less costly. You can report cyber crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and go here to learn what to do if you are a victim of identity theft.

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A Chinese Company Just Hacked an iPhone Using Play-Doh

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If you’re protecting your smartphone with your fingerprint, beware strangers bearing Play-Doh.

A Chinese startup demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress this week how a mold made from the popular children’s toy could be used to unlock an iPhone, CNBC reports.

You can see a truncated version of the purported hack in a video posted to Twitter by tech reporter Arjun Kharpal: Jason Chaikin, president of mobile security firm Vkansee, holds a piece of the molding clay bearing a fingerprint up to Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor and, within a few seconds gains, access to the device.

The Play-Doh print in use, it should be noted, came from the cast of a finger made in dental paste, according to other outlets covering the hack. In order words, it could be fairly labor intensive for criminals to replicate in the real world. Still, the demonstration serves as a reminder to keep an eye on your payment or personal information, no matter what security features you are using to protect your accounts or devices.

Apple did not immediately respond to Credit.com’s request for comment on the demonstration. It did point Kharpal to its security policy, which states “every fingerprint is unique, so it is rare that even a small section of two separate fingerprints are alike enough to register as a match for Touch ID. The probability of this happening is 1-in-50,000 for one enrolled finger. This is much better than the 1-in-10,000 odds of guessing a typical 4-digit passcode.”

Protecting Your Personal Information

According to CNBC, Chaikin was demonstrating the hack to illustrate a lack of sophistication in current biometric solutions — which authenticate identities via physical or biological information, like a fingerprint, retinal scan or even heartbeat. His company, incidentally, is marketing its own fingerprint sensor, but this isn’t the first time current biometric authenticators has been called into question. Reports have surfaced of Apple’s Touch ID being hacked before and other popular smartphones have weathered similar allegations.

Regardless of these hacks, biometric authenticators are generally considered more secure than traditional alphanumeric passwords, though, on the flip side, there’s also been some debate around what hackers could do, should they get a hold of such sensitive information. That’s why consumers should, at the very least, read all the terms and conditions associated with the biometrics they use to learn, among other things, what is being scanned, where it is being stored and what security features are in place to lock down the information should your device be stolen or otherwise compromised.

And whether using password or fingerprint protection, you should regularly monitor financial accounts for credit card or debit card fraud and check your credit for signs of deeper identity theft. (You can pull your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and see your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.) Signs of your identity has been stolen include a sudden drop in credit score, mysterious accounts or high balances you weren’t aware of.

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6 Things in Your Home That Could Get You Hacked

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Image: David Sack

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