Was The German Election Hacked?

On September 24th, 2017, federal elections took place in Germany to elect Germany’s next parliament, the 19th Bundestag. 

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won the majority of votes with 33%, making this Angela Merkel’s fourth term in office.

Merkel has been a steadfast supporter of the European Union, and much of the EU’s viability can be credited to Germany’s economic prowess and political stability. This made Germany an appealing yet somewhat challenging target for the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose interference in Western elections has unfolded in a dramatic and unprecedented fashion. The question on much of the world’s mind was, could the German election successfully be hacked?

There are two primary ways that modern elections can be interfered with:

  • The most direct method is to attack the election apparatus itself which is often easier said than done unless you happen to be a dictator in control of the entities delivering election results. 
  • The other method, and the one that has been the most prolific, is to attempt to influence the electorate to support or oppose candidates or initiatives of the attacker’s choosing. 

With the rise of the Internet and social media, it’s not hard to spool up tons of fake social media accounts and use them to spread rumors, lies, or even amplify real news when it benefits attackers’ motives. It’s often hard to gauge the true impact of these efforts on election results, however; even for the attackers.
A Tale of Election Software

Many German states use a software created by vote iT to count votes from local and national elections, called PC-Wahl. IT specialists Thorsten Schröder, Linus Neumann and Martin Tschirsich analysed the software and found numerous security flaws. Neumann is quoted as stating 
"We did this in our spare time. Everybody's worried about state sponsors and professional hackers, if we can do this in a couple of evenings of sitting around in our apartments, you can imagine how easily this could be accomplished by a state actor."

Vote iT told German news magazine Der Spiegel that there were “no security-related weaknesses in the software.” Nevertheless, patches were soon issued.  German hacker collective Chaos Computer Club (CCC) corroborated these findings, releasing a report warning that this software is easily manipulated. Passwords were either found online or easily guessed, and encryption methods were out of date. Germany’s top technology security agency, BSI, later ordered PC-Wahl’s security to be improved.

CCC previously uncovered vulnerabilities in German election voting systems in 2006 by circumventing their security measures and reprogramming voting computers to play chess. The German Federal Constitutional Court has since eliminated use of voting computers, resulting in the return to pen and paper votes.

As a result of the move back to pen and paper, attacking the election apparatus in German elections poses a particular challenge. This analog system would require significant resources to affect the outcome of the election if trying to boost numbers directly at the polls.  

Each voter casts two votes in a system that blends an additional member system with elements of a first-past-the-post system. Parties must win at least 5% of the second vote to enter parliament, a mandate put down to prevent splinter parties from bogging down the government such as with the Weimar Republic of the 1920s. The Weimar Republic was characterised by instability and short governing terms due to a large number of political parties that failed to compromise on key issues.
Individual voters, therefore, do not directly cast a ballot for the new chancellor as voters do for the President of the United States. Within the US a disparity of results between the popular vote and electoral college is a sometimes expected, if not frustrating event for many voters. 

Any disparity of reported results and actual votes in Germany would instead incite a resoundingly more chaotic result, potentially leading to calls for another election.

Should someone look to meddle with the German election, their only realistic option would be to interfere with the software responsible for tallying or reporting the results. 

Votes are collected and disseminated through digitised means determined by each region. And, although the paper votes could always be recounted, any strife would likely degrade confidence in the democratic system. 

As a result of suspected interference in recent elections, we now find ourselves wondering if attackers will attempt to manipulate each major election. It may be the case that, for whatever reasoning, the recent German election seems to have been spared of any significant attempts at outside manipulation. 

Regardless, there will be more major elections soon in Western countries and we will once again be asking ourselves if attackers will try to influence the results. 

Anomali

You Might Also Read: 

Fake Facebook Ads Surged During The US Presidential Election:

Germany May Go Offensive After Russian Cyber Attacks:

Angela Merkel’s Ally Caught In Cyber Attack As Elections Loom:

Germany Gets Tough On Social Media:

 

« Deloitte Hit by Cyber Attack: Clients' Private Data Exposed
Could the US Use A Cyber Attack To Take Down N. Korea? »

CyberSecurity Jobsite
Perimeter 81

Directory of Suppliers

North Infosec Testing (North IT)

North Infosec Testing (North IT)

North IT (North Infosec Testing) are an award-winning provider of web, software, and application penetration testing.

Perimeter 81 / How to Select the Right ZTNA Solution

Perimeter 81 / How to Select the Right ZTNA Solution

Gartner insights into How to Select the Right ZTNA offering. Download this FREE report for a limited time only.

Practice Labs

Practice Labs

Practice Labs is an IT competency hub, where live-lab environments give access to real equipment for hands-on practice of essential cybersecurity skills.

Clayden Law

Clayden Law

Clayden Law advise global businesses that buy and sell technology products and services. We are experts in information technology, data privacy and cybersecurity law.

The PC Support Group

The PC Support Group

A partnership with The PC Support Group delivers improved productivity, reduced costs and protects your business through exceptional IT, telecoms and cybersecurity services.

CERT-SE

CERT-SE

CERT-SE is the national and governmental Computer Security Incident Response Team of Sweden.

TeleTrusT

TeleTrusT

TeleTrust is an IT Security association and network for IT security comprising members from industry, administration, consultancy and research.

Aeriandi

Aeriandi

Aeriandi is a leading provider of hosted PCI security compliance solutions for call centres, trusted by high street banks and major Telcos.

Identillect Technologies

Identillect Technologies

Identillect Technologies provide a user-friendly secure email solution to protect critical information, with an emphasis on simplicity.

Penta Security

Penta Security

Founded on its data encryption technology, Penta Security is a leading provider of web and data security products, solutions and services.

SAASPASS

SAASPASS

SAASPASS is a full-stack identity and access management solution, a single product which allows you to manage all your digital and physical access needs securely and conveniently.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Southwest Research Institute SwRI are R&D problem solvers providing independent services to government and industry clients. Areas of expertise include Cybersecurity, Intelligent Networks and IoT.

Blueskytec (BST)

Blueskytec (BST)

BST provide accredited, patent-pending commercial cyber security hardware and software to protect your cyber physical systems from attack.

CoverWallet

CoverWallet

CoverWallet combines deep analytics, thoughtful design and state of the art technology to help small businesses with all their insurance needs including Cyber Liability.

Measured Insurance

Measured Insurance

Measured Insurance are bridging the gap between technology and Insurance using AI-Powered analytics that track clients’ exposure in real time to create smarter insurance products.

Curity

Curity

The Curity Identity Server brings identity and API security together, enabling highly scalable and secure user access to digital services.

Venari Security

Venari Security

Venari is an award-winning cybersecurity SaaS provider that has developed an ETA (Encrypted Traffic Analysis) platform which fundamentally changes the way encrypted traffic is analysed.

Sure Valley Ventures

Sure Valley Ventures

Sure Valley Ventures is an entrepreneur led venture capital fund focused on helping software entrepreneurs grow and scale businesses that will have a global impact.

SpireTec Solutions

SpireTec Solutions

SpireTec Solutions is an IT management training company offering 1500+ courses with state of art training facilities backed by a team of industry experts in various domains including cybersecurity.

Avocado Consulting

Avocado Consulting

Avocado helps clients deliver with certainty on their complex IT change, with technology services that automate, monitor and optimise.

G-71

G-71

G-71 LeaksID is a cutting-edge ITM technology aimed at safeguarding sensitive documents from insider threats.