President Obama has ordered a full review of cyberattacks relating to the 2016 election.
The investigation will be carried out by U.S. intelligence agencies and delivered to the president in a report before he leaves office on January 20.
About time. During the run-up to the election, breaches of voter registration systems were reported in—take a breath—Arizona, Illinois, and Florida; servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and e-mail accounts belonging to John Podesta and Colin Powell.
The report’s scheduled arrival fits a tight time line, but this is likely to be an exercise in pulling together intelligence rather than gathering it from scratch. After all, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence have already said that “based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts … only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized” the Democratic National Committee hack.
While the origins of other attacks haven’t been confirmed, security researchers have suggested that they’re likely to have been carried out by Russia, too. It wouldn’t be surprising if the new report confirms that. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, has publicly stated that the DNC hack was part of “a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”
The stakes, of course, are high. Earlier this year, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in the Washington Post that “if foreign governments learn they can influence our elections with impunity” we could “[open] the door to future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.”
It’s unclear whether the report will be made publicly available. But Obama, and the nation’s incoming president, will at least be presented with the facts about how hacks influenced the election. Indeed, as counterterrorism and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco explained to Politico, Donald Trump’s administration will “inherit a rapidly growing threat in this space.”
And, perhaps, a report describing how a foreign power helped America elect its 45th president.
(Read more: Reuters, Politico, “Here Are All the Ways That Technology Could Screw Up Today’s Election,” “Wikileaks E-Mails Are an Election Influence to Really Worry About,” “The Internet Is No Place for Elections”)