Hacking the 2008 Elections: Anonymous Voter Suppression and Other Dirty Tricks

October 9th, 2007

I’m just back from traveling through Texas and Louisiana, and it’s always great to come home to an article as full of fun as this one: New Scientist reports from an e-crime summit in Pittsburg that in the coming years, “voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns, and that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks.”

Politics of the nasty, low-down and dirty variety, just the way we like it. How about anonymous voice-over-IP phone banks to spread “information” about a rival candidate — like a push-poll but without the poll. Hire the right hacker, and you can have zillions of pre-recorded messages go out over a captive bot-net, with the owners of the sending machines completely unaware that they’re participating in the campaign. Besides VOIP, good ol’ spam will also work nicely — let’s us go tell some voters that their polling places have changed or that they need to renew their registration before they can vote. That’ll confuse some folks, maybe enough to swing a precinct or two here and there.

Online campaigning is also vulnerable to straight-up criminals, with fake donations sites a perfect way to phish for credit cards and bank accounts. The “nice” thing is, this stuff is already relatively easy:

The low probability of getting caught online, combined with the fact that anti-spam laws and “no-call” lists exempt political messages, makes the threat real. “The fact is that all of the technology for all of these things to happen is already in place,” Soghoian says. “I’m not sure this will happen in 2008, but it will happen.”

Of course, if a candidate gets caught doing something nasty online, they’re sure to take a lot of heat. Dirty tricks are more likely to be employed by outside groups who’ll be structured in such a way that you’ll likely have a hard time proving that anyone on the benefiting campaign is connected.


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