Did Macron pull a fast one on hackers?

The Macron campaign may have deceived and confused Russian hackers more than they fell victim to supposed hacking and data dumps.

#MacronLeaks turned out to be a damp squib at the end as various cyber-attacks and data breach incidents had very little effect on the Macron campaign.

Towards the end of April, we reported on how suspected Russian hackers who were linked to the Russian GRU were conducting a spate of cyber-attacks on French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign websites. Aside from data breaches and hacked logins, the Macron campaign was also at the receiving end of fake news and online propaganda designed to influence public opinion against Macron.

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"Emmanuel Macron is the only candidate in the French presidential campaign to be targeted. It's no coincidence if Emmanuel Macron, the last remaining progressive candidate in this election, is the priority target," said the Macron campaign team while revealing that at least five advanced cyber-attack operations were conducted on the campaign's websites.

Just before the campaigning blackout took effect on Friday night, alleged hackers dumped 9GB of data which then showed up on Twitter under #MacronLeaks and also appeared on several websites- obviously taken from Macron's e-mail exchanges and websites, and designed to influence public opinion ahead of the vote.

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As it turned out, Macron ended up becoming the youngest French president ever, winning the elections by a historic margin. In fact, he secured almost double the number of votes compared to Marine Le Pen, an anti-immigration campaigner who was once welcomed to the Kremlin by Vladimir Putin himself.

The Daily Beast reports that the Macron Campaign carried out an elaborate obfuscation programme to confuse hackers, especially Pawn Storm, a Russian cyber-spying group also known as Fancy Bear. Campaign managers planted bogus information by signing on to phishing pages targeted by the hackers, thus rewarding the hackers with false information and confusing signals.

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"You can flood these [phishing] addresses with multiple passwords and log-ins, true ones, false ones, so the people behind them use up a lot of time trying to figure them out,” said Mounir Mahjoubi, the head of Macron’s digital team to The Daily Beast. Mahjoubi previously served as the head of the French National Digital Council, and upon taking over as the head of the campaign's cyber-security arm, emboldened (duped) hackers further by claiming that he had no evidence of Russian hackers being involved in cyber-attacks.

With General Elections coming up in June, it will be interesting to see if British political parties will be able to dupe hackers into believing that they got hold of sensitive information which they can use to create propaganda and influence public opinion. However, once outsmarted by Macron, these hackers will be a lot wiser, which will make the upcoming cyber-warfare leading up to the elections a treat to watch.