They come as doctored photos circulating on telegram as fake accounts on twitter or as malicious data crashing websites Music, as germany is about to elect a new parliament. Cyber attacks like that loom large over the campaign. Some of them deploy brand new technology, while others rely on methods that have been tested for decades. So how do you hack an election and what can be done to protect them to understand the kind of cyber threats hanging over elections? It helps to break them down into three categories: the three levels of election hacking and on level one we start with whats, most obvious hacking. Attackers can directly hack into the computers that are used to run online campaign events or the election itself. Angela merkels conservative christian democrats experienced that firsthand when they met online to elect a new party chief again and again, hackers flooded their website with internet traffic until at some point it collapsed. After about an hour, the party managed to expel the intruders and the site went back online, but the incidence raised concerns whether similar tactics could be used to disrupt the vote itself. Now here in germany at least, that seems unlikely, unlike countries like the us, where electronic voting machines are used, germans still cast their vote with pen and paper. That paper trail makes it practically impossible to hack the final result, but there still is a weak link on election night. Early results are reported electronically after votes are counted in roughly 87 000 wards.
The software is used to send the numbers to about 11 000 local authorities from there to 299 election districts, then to 16 regional authorities and finally, to germanys federal returning officer who announces them to the public. If hackers managed to hack into the software that could delay the announcement and create some chaos on election night authorities, say theyve got things under control, so all good, not really, because even the best cyber security measures are of little help. Once we get to level two of election hacking, disinformation, thats, damaging information, spread deliberately to sway public opinion against certain candidates or certain parties. In april 2021 hours after germanys green party announced who it was sending into the race for chancellor photos began circulating online. They allegedly showed candidate, analina bierbach hugging colleagues, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, without a mask, but the photos were fake. They came from footage shot years earlier before the pandemic. We do see death information campaigns against us im secretary general of the german greens and im in charge of the campaign ill. Give you another example. Shortly after fake quotes of bear, brocks appeared online suggesting that she wants to prohibit kids from having pets at home. You dont want to forbid pets, but you know it was circulating in telecrime in whatsapp and whatsoever. The party released a statement and spoke with google to make sure that, when people in germany, google, analina bierbach and pets, the top results would be articles debunking.
The fake news, Music, but months later rumors persist that the greens want to ban pets which to be completely clear they dont. Just yesterday i was was campaigning myself and an old lady spoke about this topic. You know – and i mean its its just unbelievable nonsense, and this information isnt only spread about candidates, its also spread about the election itself, which is something we saw during regional elections in the state of saxony amhalt in june. Ahead of the vote, a user on twitter claimed to be an election worker determined to invalidate votes for the far right afd soon after the tweet was shared by a top party official, but the photo posted with it did not show german election workers. It came from footage shot during the 2020 u.s election. These examples illustrate how easy its become for anyone today to produce disinformation. All you need are some basic photoshop skills and a social media account, and although it often just takes one google search to debunk such cheap fakes, they still do damage now. There are ways how to fight back and well get to them later. But first lets talk about more professional disinformation campaigns which are run by highly sophisticated players or even entire countries. Its a forbidding world of spies and secret operations and, under normal circumstances, its impossible to keep track of whats going on. But sometimes history allows us a glimpse of the methods that are used over four decades.
Communist east germany ran some of the most successful disinformation campaigns in the world here from its headquarters in east berlin, the countrys stasi intelligence service bombarded west germany with disinformation Music during germanys, peaceful revolution of 1989 and 90. Civil rights activists prevented many stasi files from being destroyed. Today, those documents provide unparalleled insights into how the secret service manipulated elections. They show how, for example, during west germanys 1961 election campaign, the stasi tried to discredit social democratic candidate willy brunt by spreading rumors about what he did while he was living in exile during the nazi regime. Thats typical for successful disinformation campaigns, usually they dont spread stories that are completely made up. Rather they center on half truths and bend facts to fit the narrative. Two decades later, the stasi struck anew. In 1980, west german chancellor himu schmidt was running against die hard. Conservative france, joseph strauss and the prospect of the bavarian taking over the chancellery divided the country. What people in west germany didnt know was that across the iron curtain the stasi had a plan for adding fuel to the fire. The agency forged a 13 page document that looked like it came from inside strauss csu party, suggesting that the bavarians would split away from their conservative block after the election on these positions. The magazine printed parts of it a few days ahead of the election. This made charles conservatives look in disarray and they ended up scoring their worst result in 30 years.
To this day, this information is often spread by third parties who have no idea that theyre being instrumentalized back in the cold war. Those were often journalists today in the age of social media. It can be anyone, but journalists still often play a crucial role, which brings us to the best known cyber disinformation campaign to this day in 2016, emails from hillary clintons campaign chairman, which had been stolen by russian hackers, were dumped on wikileaks. You will probably remember the week long debate about the emails. What do you think would they have had the same impact they did had they not been picked up again and again by journalists. Another batch of stolen emails, more than 1900 emails released just this weekend. John podestas emails have provided trump with a steady stream of new material. Most media analysts say they wouldnt, and here we are on level 3 of election hacking, sophisticated hybrid cyber operations, which blend hacking, attacks with disinformation campaigns and often run several of them at the same time, and the threat of such campaigns remains real. According to the head of germanys domestic intelligence service, museum, Music of the easter egg, observations from germanys neighbors, the netherlands, which held elections earlier this year, suggest that authorities have reason for concern. There was considerable effort to influence the public opinion im, a former digital campaigner, and i have watched the dutch elections in my capacity as the founder and executive director of a foundation called defend democracy.
When ali stallmayers team monitored social media, they identified dozens of small cyber operations. In one instance, someone set up what pretended to be the official telegram journal of a left wing party and used it to spread falsehood elsewhere. Fake profiles popped up on twitter, pretending to be green politicians and provoking controversy. Bad actors are so creative in finding endless new ways of doing bad stuff. The parties denounced the profiles as fake, but the damage was done and the posts kept circulating online, which brings us back to what we said earlier. Even if this information is debunked as fake, it still leaves traces of doubt and over time. Those traces of doubt add up slowly eroding trust in democracy, its a death by a thousand cuts. If you will depressing yes, and no, because there are ways how to tackle election meddling when it comes to level 1 hacking, everyone, including politicians, can set up safeguards to better protect themselves, for example by using safer passwords. But what about the disinformation on level two and level three weve seen that identifying it and debunking it alone wont do the job, so what else could be done? The resiliency of a society is connected to a lot of a lot of things. Im director of an organization called future ice, its a thinker do tank that deals with the digital public sphere versus the platform. The platforms really dont care as much as they should since 2018, when the world learned that consultancy cambridge analytica had used social media to sway.
Elections from nigeria to the us tech giants have been under unprecedented scrutiny for how they deal with disinformation on their platforms. They have launched efforts to better fight this information on their platforms, but particularly on encrypted messaging apps, a wildfire of disinformation rages on and thats why experts say people also need to learn how to spot information that is meant to deceive them. The question now is where, and how do you teach people such media literacy? It has to be in schools. Finland, for example, already teaches media literacy in elementary schools about education for older people, something that less attention has been paid to. But it has to be also a part of the media itself, because media can explain a lot to the people in when theyre. Talking about this information, they can describe how its created. How does it work? Well, we try our best in all seriousness, hacking elections, our research showed us is no new phenomenon. This video whats different today is that the internet, social media and encrypted messaging apps have made it easier and cheaper than ever and new, deep fake technology which allows you to produce videos in which people say or do things they never did, will supercharge this development in The coming years already today, cyber attacks in all different kinds of shapes and forms are all around us and its time to boost media literacy to help people identify them. But then again when it comes to the big operations run by specialists or even entire countries.