How secure is your password? Websites often give us the impression that their database is safe from prying eyes but personal information is hacked or leaked on a daily basis. A recent study found 64 percent of Americans have had their personal data stolen or compromised, leaving many feeling uncertain about the security of modern institutions. However, in such a digitised world, the broader population is becoming complacent to what has already become a tangible threat to the freedom, privacy, and safety of millions.
Why Should We Be Worried?
Hacking has become far more serious and damaging than a breach of personal privacy or credit card fraud. In the United States, hackers have already breached the Pentagon, State Department, and White House, and have made a number of unsuccessful attacks on critical infrastructure like the electricity grid. Any breach of this nature is bad news for pretty much everyone and could cause apocalyptic scenes. Usually, the dissemination of sensitive government documents is often conducted with a perceived righteousness, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “seeks to disrupt communication within…’authoritarian conspiracies’”, including those in the US government. However, is this ‘freedom of information’ truly beneficial in creating a more informed and empowered society? At a governmental level, a breach of privacy means a little more than filling up your spam folder.
The real danger and maliciousness lies in the hacking of sensitive information from political and governmental adversaries. In 2015, China obtained the classified information of over four million current and former U.S. federal employees. It was evidence of “how persistent and determined Beijing [was] in going after data valuable to counterespionage” and heightened tensions between the two nations. This shift from more traditional forms of spying to cyberespionage was far more pervasive and challenges international relations on a whole new level. However, China did not noticeably shape the U.S. political landscape back in 2015 with this breach of trust and information; something that was about to transpire the following year.
Chinese Breach U.S. Infrastructure
Only problem was, it wasn’t in Clinton’s favour – SAD. This was confirmed with a high degree of certainty by the CIA, FBI and NSA on 6 January 2017 in a report from U.S. National Intelligence. However, President Trump made a number of suspicious and outright bizarre claims throughout the scandal that seem to indicate he was, at the very least, failing to take Russia’s involvement seriously.
Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
Was President Trump Aware of Russian Hacking?
Below is a timeline of President Trump’s comments on the Russian hacking scandal throughout the election campaign, and more recently, as damning evidence comes to light:
April 27, 2016: In a foreign policy address, Trump says, “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China…we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests”.
June 15, 2016: After the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked by Russian spies, Trump issues a statement explaining, “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader”.
June 27, 2016: Trump then changes his stance and sanctions Russia to hack presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton’s emails, saying “They hacked…they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do. Russia, if you’re listening I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”.
Trump Calls for Russian Hacking
October 20, 2016: In the third presidential debate, after multiple U.S. intelligence agencies had implicated Russia as the hacker, the following exchange took place:
Trump: [Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: You have no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting seventeen, seventeen [US intelligence agencies]. Do you doubt…
Trump: Our country has no idea.
January 6, 2017: As conclusive evidence mounts against Russia, President Trump is forced to concede that “While Russia, China, other countries, other groups and people are constantly trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee, there was no effect on the outcome of the election”.
January 11, 2017: After denying Russia’s involvement in the election results for the majority of the election campaign, Trump carelessly admits, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but we also get hacked by other countries and other people”.
The Future of U.S. Government Cyber Security & Integrity
As the strength of cyber security measures used by U.S. government agencies is called into question, the integrity and transparency of the current administration should also be assessed. As all major intelligence agencies worked on Trump’s behalf to investigate Russia’s involvement in the hacking scandal, President Trump remained “critical of the intelligence community as a whole”. This, combined with conflicting and incriminating statements throughout the campaign, casts doubt on the legitimacy of the current presidency and paints a dire picture for the future of liberal democracy. How can the United States maintain national security for its citizens if the head of state is capable of supporting a Russian agenda? More advanced encryption, bio-metrics and other security technologies are required to secure classified information however the U.S. may be facing a more pressing issue of internal corruption and sabotage.