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Election Hacks Are Beginning to Look Like the New Normal

Russian hackers tried, unsuccessfully, to hijack the French election—the U.K. and Germany are likely to be targeted next.

French citizens have elected the centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, despite an unwelcome last-minute leak of his campaign's documents over the Internet.

Late Friday evening, Macron found thousands of files and e-mails relating to his campaign, totaling at least nine gigabytes, shared online. Just ahead of the country's midnight campaigning cutoff, Macron's En Marche! team had time to alert the public to the fact that the document dump was the result of a hack, and took the opportunity to implore media organizations to report on the news responsibly.

As CNBC points out, French law bans the media from covering the election in the run-up to voting, which means that domestic publications had little chance to run the story. That didn't stop bots on Twitter, though, which appear to have been widely circulating links during the weekend.

The Guardian reported Monday that two security research firms, Flashpoint Intelligence and Trend Micro, both believe that the Russian hacking group sometimes known as Fancy Bear or Advanced Persistent Threat 28 was behind the attack. That's the same outfit believed to be responsible for attacks leveled at the Democratic party during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and one that’s also thought to be tied to the Russian army’s foreign military intelligence agency.

It appears that the hacks were made possible by spear-phishing attacks, in which En Marche! team members were sent links purporting to be from reputable services in order to obtain login credentials. Analysis of the techniques used suggests that Fancy Bear hackers were responsible for both the fake websites used during the Macron hacks and those that helped them target the Democratic party.

Macron’s team was apparently aware that it had been hacked, and the Daily Beast even reports that the campaign injected its own fake content into the files obtained by hackers in order to cause confusion. Meanwhile, some of the published content is also believed to have been edited on computers running Russian-language operating systems, suggesting that the hackers may have tried to add to the information that was claimed to come from Macron and his team.

Ultimately, of course, the leak didn’t damage Macron's fortunes, as he secured 66 percent of the votes, easily beating his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, who notched up just 34 percent. But the news does serve to highlight the fact that the hacks that dominated the news during the Trump-Clinton presidential fight in the U.S. were no aberration. Rather, they seem to be a new kind of normal in the election season of a Western country.

All eyes will now turn to the U.K. and Germany, which have elections scheduled on June 8 and September 24, respectively. Facebook today kick-started a campaign to alert British voters to the presence of fake news, even deleting thousands of accounts from its social network in a bid to halt the dissemination of misinformation. The real stuff, though, could still cause a problem if hackers get their hands on it—something that these days looks all but inevitable.

(Read more: The New York Times, The Guardian, “Russian Disinformation Technology,” “Obama Demands the Facts on Election Hacks”)

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