Cyber-based October Surprises Could Decide the Election

It is a certainty that both political parties will release information in the coming weeks that they hope will influence the outcome of the election in their favor. Much of this information can be termed, cyber-based, but not all of it. The non-cyber-based surprises could include such developments as an all-out attack on Mosul which could result in a victory/near victory over ISIS before the election. This would effectively undermine Trump’s using ISIS and the Hillary/Obama mismanagement of the Iraq situation as a vote-getter. Another non-cyber surprise could be statistics or studies that show the economy is booming. This could weaken Trump’s argument that the U.S. is on the wrong economic track and pave the way to its continuation in a Clinton administration.

But, by far, the cyber-based surprises are the ones that could most clearly influence election results. So here are the ones to watch and the chances that they may do what they claim they could do.

Assange/Wikileaks Revelations

 There is no love lost between Julian Assange and the Clintons. Assange feels that his virtual internment in the Ecuadorian Embassy is largely due to Clinton having a personal grudge against him for both exposing information on the Iraq war and in exposing a strong connection between the Clinton State Department and Google. Assange has always had an agenda. He has always believed that the U.S. is the evil empire and that it meddles in the affairs of other countries. He sees Clinton as exemplifying this meddling (i.e. Libya). Thus, Assange is not a Trump supporter as some have claimed. The fact that he has recently attracted Trump supporters is only because he has become openly anti-Clinton and, by default, has helped the Trump campaign by exposing her emails and releasing information hacked from the DNC.

The problem for the Clinton campaign is that Assange claims to have thousands of emails and documents that could damage her, and, though unlikely, even get her sent to prison. These seem to come from hacks on either the DNC or on her private email server. I think the DNC hacks are more or less played out. The original Guccifer claimed that he had hacked Clinton, but there is no evidence of that. He certainly hacked her close friend, Sydney Blumenthal, and obtained all of the correspondence between them. But his claims that he has documents that the FBI has not found is suspect.

The big problem would come from a hitherto unexposed hack on her email. As I reported previously, she was the target of phishing emails and could have been exposed to attacks by anyone in correspondence with her who had a Google account. If a phishing attack had been successful, someone could have accessed all of her emails, including the ones she subsequently deleted. If those deleted emails, which she claimed were only personal correspondences, contained classified information, she would certainly have some explaining to do. Then again, they may contain information on Benghazi or the transfer of weapons to groups that later coagulated to form ISIS.

There is also no reason to believe that she wasn’t hacked after the DNC hack. In fact, I would be surprised if she wasn’t targeted. Who knows what information could have been received from such a hack. And yes, the hacks most likely came from Russia, which would be happy to make her life miserable and prevent her from being elected. This is not because Putin likes Trump, which Clinton supporters would like to have people believe, but because Putin has had interactions with Clinton in the past and they were not favorable. Trump is more or less a wild card and Putin may feel he has at least a chance of being treated better by him.

Trump’s Tax Returns

 There is a clamor among Democrats and media outlets for Trump to release his tax returns. This is similar to the clamor that surrounded Mitt Romney in the last election. Romney subsequently released his taxes and paid the consequences. But Romney had no choice. Harry Reid had claimed that anonymous sources told him that Romney had paid no taxes. Later, it appeared that Reid had received leaks on Romney’s taxes from the IRS. Is it possible that this could happen again?

A recent article in the Washington Post made the following observation.

“According to tax experts and former IRS employees, tens of thousands of people have access to Trump’s tax information, if not his complete returns. Revenue agents, customer service staff and employees at walk-in tax assistance centers, plus a smaller number of federal contractors, use a master computer that shows a summary of everyone’s return. Once they enter a name or Social Security number, these employees could go further into the record, much like scanning a bank account.”

 From a cyber security perspective, this doesn’t look good for Trump. Apparently, all you would really need to get his tax returns was his social security number. I have his social security number. I also have Clinton’s social security number. How did I get them? Back in March, the hacktivist group, Anonymous (or people claiming to be associated with that group), reported that they had obtained Trump’s social security number. If you follow the hints they give you, you will end up on a Russian site that lists the personal information of numerous American politicians and celebrities. Among these are Trump and Clinton with all of their personal information, including their social security numbers. These numbers were, according to the site, hacked in 2013. The reason that Anonymous, or people who claim to be from that group, posted this in March was to show that these numbers were still valid.

I attempted to validate the numbers myself but received a warning from the SSA site stating that access to these numbers had been blocked and that the incident of my attempt had been recorded. In other words, the numbers were still valid, otherwise, why would access be blocked. It was clear that the information was blocked based on my IP address. It would seem that if I used a more valid IP address through a VPN, I may have been able to verify them, but I had already found out what I wanted to know. In short, Trump’s tax returns could be relatively easily accessed by people working for various tax agencies or by mid-level ability hackers.

It is even possible that the IRS had this information taken from them in hacks that occurred in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. In addition, they accidentally released the SSNs of thousands of people when they put their 527 database (tax exempt political organizations and donors) online with the SSNs of some donors. The faulty database remained online for only 24 hours, but investigations showed that someone had downloaded all of it. I am not sure if Trump was one of those unlucky donors whose SSNs were given away, but his name is listed in the donor database.

All of the above leads me to believe that the DNC already has Trump’s tax records. Then why all the fuss about having him release them? Well, to admit that they had them would be tantamount to admitting that they had participated in, or were the beneficiaries of, some sort of foul play. My guess is that the DNC has already found some incriminating information in these returns but can’t really release it until Trump releases his tax returns. They could use the anonymous person approach to leak this information (i.e. “a person with close ties to Trump, who wishes to remain anonymous, has told us…”) or launder them through a third party site, but this lacks the authority of having information that they actually found in his returns. However, if Trump does not release his returns, expect stories from the DNC which list anonymous or vague sources, if only to muddy the waters.

Here is a graph showing general interest in the above two possible October surprises over the last month.

emails-taxes

 

Twitterstorms

Twitter has become useless as a forum for discussion. All you have to do is go to either of the candidates’ Twitter pages to find hundreds of trolls laying in wait to spew out the same tired, anti-other-candidate nonsense that we’ve all heard thousands of times before. But Twitter has become something else. It has become a spin tool.

The Democrats lead the way, by a wide margin, in this particular use of Twitter. Shareblue is one such spin organization. Its sole purpose is to pressure media into covering stories they would not normally cover by creating a false uproar using Twitter messages. Using both bot networks and regular accounts, they develop Twitterstorms to make an unknown, spun point of view known to media while trying to shame them into covering it. The tweets usually link to an article posted on the Shareblue site. It is always anti-Trump. They spin stories to distract the media from an anti-Clinton story or at least muddy the waters surrounding it. Of course, the other goal is to find something in what Trump says and spin it to a negative angle. Some of these spins are, frankly, ridiculous. It’s almost to the point where a Trump handshake could be branded as a sexual assault. So, perhaps it is not that the media is bias, as Trump suggests. Perhaps, the media are just naïve, easily misled, starved for stories, or just plain simple-minded when it comes to understanding how cyber spin is created.

For example, when Hillary had her collapse in New York, Shareblue spun it as Hillary showing her strong work ethic, and they posted an article about it on their website. They pushed the media to look at this angle by using tweets containing the words, “They should be ashamed”. As Shareblue CEO, Peter Daou, points out, these tweets will “put that pressure right on the media outlets in a very intense way. By the thousands.”

Shareblue is just the tip of an iceberg of super PACs and other pro-Clinton cyber weapons run by the shady, David Brock. Anyone who posts any negative comment on Hillary Clinton on any social media site may run up against Brock’s, Correct the Record organization, which has been described as “one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet’s worst instincts”. Its goal is to not only defend Clinton on social media sites, but to make it appear that she has numerous, enthusiastic supporters. They want to create an appearance of a rabid grassroots movement where none exists. Correct the Record first attacked Sanders’ voters by creating the appearance that they were wasting their time supporting a candidate who couldn’t win. Now, however, Brock has his own problems as he is facing allegations of money laundering or, at the very least, misuse of donor funds. And if there is any truth behind some allegations appearing on some of the more fringe sites, Brock has much more than money laundering to worry about. He may, in fact, be accused of bringing down the Clinton campaign with his own accidental October surprise. Some would refer to this as poetic justice.

It’s not as if Trump has no spinners of his own; he does. They just aren’t as well organized. As one writer put it, “the pro-Trump activity is especially mystifying because it is so varied. For one, the candidate has inspired significant organic activity from real-life super fans on social media.” In other words, along with having groups and bot networks spinning a variety of stories, he also has authentic grassroots support.

All indications are that October is going to be an especially bloody month for both candidates as the two sides battle it out in the online trenches. Don’t forget that rogue, state-sponsored, and party-affiliated hackers may be playing their roles by perpetrating new hacks across the board and releasing whatever they may find. My guess is that we will get something new on a daily basis and the only way we will know which of these take the greatest toll will be when the dust clears after the election.

About Steve Mierzejewski

Marketing consultant for InZero Systems, developer of the next generation in hardware-separated security, WorkPlay Technology. I've worked in Poland, Japan, Korea, China, and Afghanistan. I'm a writer, technical editor, and an educator. I also do some work as a test developer for Michigan State University.
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