Cybersecurity & Tech

The Media Must Prepare for Another Hack-and-Leak

Janine Zacharia, Andrew J. Grotto
Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 12:18 PM

What would it take to make America more resilient against propaganda campaigns?

The Democratic National Convention, which was targeted by hackers in 2016 (Vard,; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,

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The New York Post’s publication of a story about alleged emails belonging to Hunter Biden, supplied to the tabloid by President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has all the hallmarks of a Russian influence operation. Yet if the Post’s story is part of a propaganda campaign by Russia or other actors bent on corrupting American democracy, it is a very clumsy one: The original story was so specious that reporters refused to put their names on it, and even Fox News may have passed on it.

The Post story serves as a kind of warmup for the media, which may face a more newsworthy hack-and-leak scenario soon. Russian intelligence agents from the unit that successfully hacked and leaked the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC’s) emails in 2016 are again trying to break into email accounts of political parties and consultants, Microsoft said last month. In late September, Facebook announced that it had dismantled a propaganda campaign with connections to the same Russian actors. Meanwhile, Google says China and Iran are trying to access email accounts of campaign staffers working for both President Trump’s and Joe Biden’s campaigns via phishing attempts.

With all these indications that another hack-and-leak operation is likely, what would it take to make America more resilient against propaganda campaigns?

Janine Zacharia, a former reporter for the Washington Post, Bloomberg and other news outlets, is the Carlos Kelly McClatchy Lecturer in the Department of Communication at Stanford University where she teaches journalism. She writes regularly on foreign affairs, the intersection of technology and national security and the media.
Andrew J. Grotto is the William J. Perry International Security Fellow at Stanford University and the founding director of the Program on Geopolitics, Technology and Governance at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center. He serves as the faculty lead for the Cyber Policy and Security specialization in Stanford's Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy degree program and teaches the core cyber policy course for the specialization. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He served as senior director for cyber policy on the National Security Council during the Obama and Trump administrations from late 2015 through May of 2017.

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