Few years ago, a Google search inquiring about who the most powerful man in the world was would credit Barack Obama as the person suitable for the honorific moniker. But today, it’s Vladimir Putin who owns it. With him at the helm, the Kremlin has made several attempts to compromise online accounts of politicians and political parties worldwide; be it the US Presidential election in 2016 or the French election in May this year. With the German elections coming up on 24th September this year and Chancellor Angela Merkel (Putin’s strongest critic in the European Union) running for office, Germany fears that it might be next.
The first question that arises is whether Germany is prone to these attacks or not. Russian hackers jolted the German parliament in 2015 by reportedly launching a ‘series of cyber attacks’ on the Bundestag, costing it 16 gigabytes of highly confidential data. It is said that a group of Russian hackers, who identify themselves as ‘APT 28’ or ‘Fancy Bear’ besides many other aliases, were behind the attacks that paralyzed the German parliament in March that year. More recently, in January this year, the German parliament was the target of fresh cyber-attacks through an Israeli newspaper site. The hackers appeared to use German advertisements running on ‘The Jerusalem Post’ website to redirect users to a malicious site, Reuters reported on 29th March, 2017.
The Germans have taken these potential threats very seriously, by taking huge strides to prevent cyber-attacks and also the spread of fake news online. German Federal office for Information Security (also called the BSI), Germany’s primary organ to combat cyber vulnerabilities; has beefed up its cyber security and is set to recruit 180 more people this year. Merkel has formulated some stringent rules to curb the spread of fake news as well. In March this year, the German government proposed a legislation to fine social media companies if they fail to remove slanderous/misleading content on social media within 24 hours (called the NetzDG law). Proposed fines could be as dear as 500,000 euros to any social media company violating this rule. The Chaos Computer Club or CCC is an online hackers’ group that is helping the German government secure its systems and filtering out fake news on a large scale. That’s right, hackers are confronting hackers this election; the only two virtues separating the two groups being honesty and curiosity.
BSI believes that Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party is the ‘Fancy Bear’s’ next target after compromising thousands of emails from Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) account during the US Presidential elections in 2016. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has rubbished claims of interfering in the internal election of any country; refusing to have any association with ‘APT 28’ or ‘Fancy Bear’. Putin garnered international criticism for claiming that individually motivated ‘patriotic’ hackers might have mounted attacks in the 2016 US election. Exploiting the voting bank vulnerabilities of any country isn’t a cakewalk, but one also cannot deny the fact that Russia’s notoriety in the cyber-attack arena is unlike any other country in the world.
‘The Iron Lady of Europe’ wishes to serve as Germany’s chancellor for another term and there’s no one who can fill her shoes at this stage. Accompanied by her French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron; Merkel is keen to re-shape Europe after the Brexit blow. Whether Merkel gets re-elected and cements her position as one of the most influential leaders of Europe, or the Kremlin decides on who wins the race for the Bundestag is something that only time will tell!
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