Russia and the U.S. Election: Is it really cyberwar crime?

In recent months, one of the most talked about political issues is the alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election. The media produced hundreds of headlines claiming that Russia had “hacked the election”. However, Google Exec Jared Cohen claims that the hacking is not what it seems to be. Cohen mentioned “that the type of ‘hacking’ connected to the election is different from the standard notion of breaking into a computer or a other electronic device.” He goes on to explain that he doesn’t believe that Russia actually hacked any physical devices or voting machines to manipulate the election. Instead, Cohen argues that the hacking that was in fact conducted during the election was a type of hacking that hasn’t really been considered by cybersecurity experts. Cohen explains that “the type of hacking that we don’t understand as well is the hacking of the conversation and hacking of the discourse, and that’s what meddling in our election looked like.” In addition, Cohen believes that the accusations and focus on Russia has been overblown and that he could name 12 other countries that used the same exact tactics that Russia allegedly used. Cohen explains that “I think there’s a risk of becoming so hyper-focused on U.S. and Russia that we miss how many countries around the world are engaging in these digital insurgencies.” In response to the alleged Russian hacking, the U.S. congress is attempting to better understand cyberwar and what constitutes it. Even if the U.S. national security apparatus did in fact possess a “smoking gun” as Singer and Friedman call it, that connected the hacking directly to the Russian government, does their actions really constitute a cyberwar crime? Is spreading fake news or promoting candidates a cyberwar crime that should be retaliated against? Cohen also goes on to talk about the specifics of social hacking and what he considers “patriotic trolling,” which is when hacking becomes more organized and state-sponsored. Cohen explains that this type of hacking is used by governments such as Turkey, to suppress dissent. He goes on to explain that the people engaged in this type of hacking “who often appear to be diverse and unrelated based on their profiles—work to direct the political conversation toward whatever issue they choose.” This is a dangerous idea to consider. It becomes possible that government could be able to sway the opinions of their populations without them even knowing. Cohen also touches on a problem that Singer and Friedman consider, which is the issue of attribution. He claims that “the challenge with technology and the challenge with these cyber wars is because attribution is so difficult, it challenges all of our assumptions.”


One thought on “Russia and the U.S. Election: Is it really cyberwar crime?

  1. This is extremely interesting, especially considering it is such a hot topic right now. Whenever we hear hacking, we think of hacking in the limited sense based on the little knowledge of it that the general public has. As you said, hacking in this case wouldn’t be hacking into voting machines or computers, rather it is hacking in a less traditional sense. It is an interesting point to not that it wasn’t physical hacking, thus it isn’t a type of hacking considered by cybersecurity experts. I think the fact that it wasn’t tradition hacking is key in unpacking it and learning from it but also the difficulty it provides. The spreading fake news or promoting candidates something just Russia does? No, it is important to discuss, outside of Russia and the US as it is a tactic. There are similar discussions surround the role of Russia meddling in the French election, it will be interesting to see how it could possibly be handled in France compared to the US.


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