What if Russian voter hacks were just part of its Facebook ad campaign?

What if Russian voter hacks were just part of its Facebook ad campaign?
From Engadget - October 6, 2017

In June an NSA document, leaked to press, showed voter registration software management company VR Systems had been hacked by Russian state actors. At the time, eight states scrambled to figure out if their systems were compromised, with the NSA remaining uncertain about the results of the attacks. It was at least successful enough for the hackers to launch a second-stage spearphishing campaign posing as VR Systems and "targeting U.S. local government organizations."

In that instance the NSA learned that Russian government hackers "focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls," according to The Intercept.

The news about VR Systems bolstered a June report that Russian hackers hit voting systems in a total of 39 states, accessing voter databases, software systems, and in one instance, a campaign finance database.

"One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, did not try to disrupt the vote," Bloomberg wrote. In all reported cases of 2016 voting systems hacking and intrusion attempts, it's suggested that the break-ins were unsuccessful, or to sow mistrust, or keep voters off registration lists.

But with new information about Russia's Facebook ad buys, we should consider that Russian actors hacked American state systems not to change votes or harm voter trust, but to glean voter information that could specifically target actual, active voters with pro-Trump and anti-Clinton Facebook ads.

Using hacked voter rolls to target Facebook ads?

Days ago, more details emerged about the Russian state ads used to influence voters toward a Trump presidential victory last November. Facebook has only recently conceded to press that ten million people saw those ads -- the ads we know of from the one Russian campaign that Facebook has admitted to, anyway. Nowhere is Facebook's inadequacy more evident than in its response, as usual.

Those ads and their targeting was crucial. This was an election where the loser actually "won" by 2.9 million votes. Getting a fraction of those ten million voters on Facebook to vote for Trump in specific, targeted states was absolutely critical for Trump's victory. And that's exactly what happened: Trump won by ten thousand votes in Michigan, and twenty thousand in Wisconsin.

Both states -- key to Trump's win -- were part of Russia's targeted, pro-Trump Facebook ads. It is unknown whether or not Michigan and Wisconsin were among the 39 states that had voting systems and databases breached before the election.

We can expect to learn more about other states targeted in the Russian Facebook ad influence campaign. Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff told CNN the investigation panel was still figuring out the full geographical breakdown of the pro-Trump Russian ads.


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