With the development of the cyberspace, some new uses of the related technologies have appeared, including beneficial and malevolent ones. The latter group seems to include electoral interference; the 2016 United States (US) elections are a prime example of the possibility.1 According to the relevant reports, a number of activities performed by Russian hackers may have affected the elections and were most probably aimed at that outcome.2 Here, an analysis and synthesis of the literature that covers the cyber-incident, as well as cyber-incidents in general, especially in connection to counterintelligence, will be presented in the form of a literature review. The paper will consider the key themes and topics of the literature and highlight the gaps within it.
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Since the event occurred in 2016, it has not received the most extensive coverage yet, especially when peer-reviewed articles that focus on it are considered. Still, the present paper managed to obtain four articles that discuss the cyber-interference to at least some meaningful extent. Furthermore, four articles that reflect the topics of cyberwar and counterintelligence were introduced to contextualize the case.
Only peer-reviewed works were included to ensure the high quality of the evidence provided by them; all of them are recent due to their consideration of a 2016 case. Their analysis indicates that the literature which discusses the topic can be used to define, describe, and contextualize the event and its implications. As a result, the literature review justifies studying the case, especially from the perspective of its implications for counterintelligence, and indicates gaps that future research can cover.
Defining the Topic
The existing literature can be used to define the topic of interest, which, in this case, is the countering of cyber-interference with the help of strategic intelligence. The idea that intelligence is a major counter-terrorism tool is supported by high-quality peer-reviewed articles. Thus, Aniruddha Bagchi and Tridib Bandyopadhyay present a thorough analysis of the application of intelligence to cybercrimes and attacks, demonstrating the particular importance of this countermeasure for the types of attacks that are carried out in cyberspace.3 John Klein argues that counterintelligence is one of the many aspects of dissuading and, therefore, preventing cybercrime.4
Avner Barnea arrives at a similar conclusion while also pointing out that inefficiencies in counterintelligence infrastructure and its ability to respond to new threats are a problem that is rarely examined.5 Thus, the use of counterintelligence against cybercrime is an evidence-based solution, but it may be insufficiently researched.
It should be stated, though, that the cyber-interference of Russia in the elections might or might not qualify as a cybercrime, cyberterrorism, or cyberwarfare. For example, Paul Baines and Nigel Jones do not explicitly define the cyber-interference as an attack or an act of terrorism, but they compare it to the actions of, for example, Al-Qa’ida.6 Similarly, Homburger suggests viewing actions performed by terrorist groups as acts of terror, which might disqualify the described event.7 Bagchi and Bandyopadhyay also offer to distinguish between cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare, indicating that state-led attacks should be included in the latter group.8
However, Klein rejects such a distinction, focusing on the goals, which can consist of political or social objectives, and outcomes, which are typically harmful to the victims of the act.9 In other words, the literature does not provide a definite label for the described case, although, in any case, it can be viewed as a harmful and politically-driven act of interference in a democratic process.
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In connection to that, the significance of the event is highlighted by multiple authors. For example, Robert Kaiser claims that cyberwar elements, including various attacks, have become a major problem that will proceed to rival non-cyber terrorism in its impact and security demands.10 Also, the danger of election interference to democracy was considered by Isabella Hansen and Darren J. Lim.11 In other words, the literature can help to justify paying attention to the event and using it as a case study due to its significance as an act of cyberterrorism or cyberwarfare.
Discussing the Event and its Implications
The literature on the topic covers the specifics of the cyber-interference to an extent, but since it is not the main source of such data (official reports are), it is logical to focus on the additional commentary contained within it. A major aspect of the literature that covers the cyber-interference consists of using the case, as well as other similar events, to derive lessons from them or project their possible outcomes. Thus, Jakub Janda focuses on the ways in which a world-wide effort to counter specifically Russian cyber-aggression can be carried out, highlighting that the event has damaged international relations.12
On the other hand, Baines and Jones state that electoral intervention has been used to affect the politics of other countries long before the development of advanced communication technologies.13 From this perspective, cyber-interference is a new step in the same direction, which makes its implications slightly less drastic. However, as pointed out by Zine Homburger, the precedents of cyber-interference are likely to affect the understanding of the concept of national security worldwide, resulting in a greater emphasis on building cybersecurity capacities.14 Therefore, the event is not unimportant from the perspective of its impact on the future actions of various countries.
Specific actions related to cybersecurity have also been proposed. Thus, Baines and Jones recommend reconsidering elections as a critical element of the “national infrastructure,” which would consequently warrant their analysis for risks and vulnerabilities with relevant protections and counter-measures, including counter-intelligence.15 The authors specifically point it out that the currently existing structures do not incorporate an intelligence apparatus that would target electoral vulnerabilities. A call for changing this situation can be viewed as an example of learning from the 2016 case and applying the resulting lessons to counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the US event has been compared to other ones. Thus, the 2017 France interference, which was similar, has been discussed. Janda, for example, considers the two cyber-interference cases together as a single demonstration of Russia’s aggression.16
Baines and Jones, however, uniquely focused on the similarities between cyber-interferences and other interferences, using some examples from the previous century, one of them dating back to 1924. As a result, the literature indicates that while the idea of interference with elections is not new, cyber-interference is a relatively recent tool in cyberwar which can have a particular impact on the way cybersecurity proceeds to develop. Thus, the tendency to compare the studied case highlights both its similarity to other events and its unique implications.
Conclusions: Gaps and Future Research
Due to it being a relatively recent incident, peer-reviewed articles on the 2016 interference are not particularly numerous, especially when the works that are specifically dedicated to the topic are concerned. Furthermore, while there is no shortage of literature covering cybercrime, cyberterrorism, and cyberwarfare, these phenomena might also be understudied as suggested by one of the cited authors. Still, the present review managed to obtain eight recent, peer-reviewed sources, which allows making the following conclusions.
The literature review demonstrates that the incident can be used to glean helpful information about cybercrime, cyberterrorism, and cybersecurity. Four of the articles utilized the event, as well as other similar ones, as a case study that would serve as a starting point for their analysis of one or all the three topics. Consequently, the review of the literature justifies this approach to studying the event; it can indeed be viewed as an exemplary case with significant implications that may be used to develop insights on the topic.
Furthermore, the review suggests that due to the limited amount of materials, the literature has not reviewed the event of cyber-interference in the US elections from all perspectives. It should be noted that the chosen perspective of counterintelligence is mentioned in some of the articles, but mentioning it is not equivalent to exploring. The references that consider intelligence indicate that this topic is worth discussing, however; the articles can be used to infer that this aspect of counterterrorist activities can be helpful in combating similar events. Still, no high-quality peer-reviewed article which would discuss the implications of the studied case for strategic intelligence in detail has been found during the search for this paper. Therefore, the chosen topic can be viewed as a gap in research that the proposed project can contribute to filling.
Bagchi, Aniruddha, and Tridib Bandyopadhyay. “Role of Intelligence Inputs in Defending against Cyber Warfare and Cyberterrorism.” Decision Analysis 15, no. 3 (2018): 174-93. Web.
Baines, Paul, and Nigel Jones. “Influence and Interference in Foreign Elections.” The RUSI Journal 163, no. 1 (2018): 12-19. Web.
Barnea, Avner. “Big Data and Counterintelligence in Western Countries.” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 32, no. 3 (2019): 433-47. Web.
Hansen, Isabella, and Darren J. Lim. “Doxing Democracy: Influencing Elections Via Cyber Voter Interference.” Contemporary Politics 25, no. 2 (2019): 150-71. Web.
Homburger, Zine. “The Necessity and Pitfall of Cybersecurity Capacity Building for Norm Development in Cyberspace.” Global Society 33, no. 2 (2019): 224-42. Web.
Janda, Jakub. “How to Boost the Western Response to Russian Hostile Influence Operations.” European View 17, no. 2 (2018): 181-88. Web.
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Kaiser, Robert. “The Birth of Cyberwar.” Political Geography 46 (2015): 11-20. Web.
Klein, John. “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism.” Journal of Strategic Security 8, no. 4 (2015): 23-38. Web.
U.S. Department of Justice. “Report of the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force.” U.S. Department of Justice. 2018. Web.
U.S. Department of Justice. “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election.” U.S. Department of Justice. 2019. Web.
- U.S. Department of Justice, “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election,” U.S. Department of Justice, 2019. Web.
- U.S. Department of Justice, “Report of the Attorney General’s Cyber Digital Task Force,” U.S. Department of Justice, 2018. Web.
- Aniruddha Bagchi, and Tridib Bandyopadhyay, “Role of Intelligence Inputs in Defending against Cyber Warfare and Cyberterrorism,” Decision Analysis 15, no. 3 (2018): 174-175, 189. Web.
- John Klein, “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism,” Journal of Strategic Security 8, no. 4 (2015): 23-25. Web.
- Avner Barnea, “Big Data and Counterintelligence in Western Countries,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 32, no. 3 (2019): 437-438. Web.
- Paul Baines, and Nigel Jones, “Influence and Interference in Foreign Elections,” The RUSI Journal 163, no. 1 (2018): 15-16. Web.
- Zine Homburger, “The Necessity and Pitfall of Cybersecurity Capacity Building for Norm Development in Cyberspace,” Global Society 33, no. 2 (2018): 229. Web.
- Bagchi and Bandyopadhyay, “Role of Intelligence,” 10.
- Klein, “Deterring and Dissuading Cyberterrorism,” 24-25.
- Robert Kaiser, “The Birth of Cyberwar,” Political Geography 46 (2015): 18-19. Web.
- Isabella Hansen, and Darren J. Lim, “Doxing Democracy: Influencing Elections Via Cyber Voter Interference,” Contemporary Politics 25, no. 2 (2019): 150, 162. Web.
- Jakub Janda, “How to Boost the Western Response to Russian Hostile Influence Operations,” European View 17, no. 2 (2018): 181, 188. Web.
- Baines and Jones, “Influence and Interference,” 15-16.
- Homburger, “The Necessity and Pitfall,” 238.
- Baines and Jones, “Influence and Interference,” 16.
- Janda, “How to Boost,” 182-183.