Many hackers have an interest in accessing politically sensitive information. But their motivations for doing so vary significantly.
Take Guccifer 2.0. Earlier in June, the alleged hacker claimed responsibility for a breach at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). To back up their claims, they published several documents containing what appeared to be opposition research into presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as well as data involving DNC donors.
Guccifer 2.0’s account contradicts the findings of CrowdStrike, a security firm which has already attributed the attack to two different Russian hacker groups. CrowdStrike is currently working to validate the authenticity of Guccifer 2.0’s leaks. In the meantime, it has expressed its view that the alleged hacker might be part of “a Russian Intelligence disinformation campaign,” meaning the Kremlin might be using Guccifer 2.0 to distract attention away from the two hacker groups while they continue to collect information about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
While hackers like Guccifer 2.0 might use political information to secure an advantage for their state, others have more benign intentions. Those actors are interested in gaining unauthorized access to political information strictly for the purposes of reporting that access to the appropriate authorities and in the process better protecting our political institutions.
One such hacker recently entered into the limelight in Canada.
According to Le Journal de Montréal, an unidentified white hat hacker abused two security issues to gain access to the video conference software of Canada’s Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ). Once they had infiltrated the PLQ’s software, the white hat hacker watched live video conferences held on the premises of the PLQ permanency, listened in on strategy discussions of the party between its Montreal and Quebec City bases, and observed all discussions via cameras that were present in two meeting rooms.
The hacker gained access to the PLQ system by abusing a security flaw and entering in a default password for the video conference software. This latter security issue made the intrusion anything but difficult, explains the white hat:
“It was just too easy. It is as if they had stuck their PIN on their credit card. They are not careful […] If it falls into the hands of someone else, who knows what can happen.”
The individual who exploited the security issues reported the flaws to the PLQ, which has since plugged the security hole and changed the default password on the video conference software.
Officials at the Quebec Liberal Party said no politically sensitive information was compromised in the hack. They did not confirm that the hacker accessed the party’s video conference software using two security issues, however.
Just like any collection of data, the security of politically sensitive information is not pre-determined. It’s dependent on hardware and software applications that might suffer from security flaws, default passwords, or even year-old passcodes that an attacker could use to eavesdrop on sensitive business calls. Organizations need to keep these potential vulnerabilities in mind if they are to protect the confidentiality of sensitive political information and keep it out of the hands of actors like Guccifer 2.0. That effort begins with white hat hackers who together work to make us all a little safer.