Cyber and the Historic 2016 US Election

Cyber and the Historic 2016 US Election

This has been a historic election that shows the power and vulnerabilities that cyber has created. Elections will never be the same. Cyber, and specifically the cyber threat, have played a critical role in this election and changed our democracy forever. We have also come a long way in educating the public about these issues.

Think about the candidates themselves. Without social media, does anyone believe the outsider would have stood a chance in decimating the traditional Republican congressmen, senators, or governors to become the Republican Presidential candidate?

What about the cyber criminal investigations and national security questions that cyber created for the first major party female Democratic candidate? Who would have thought that a private email server would be the central issue of this historic cyber election?


What about the logistical cyber issues of the election process itself? Cyber devices and the connectivity of these devices could possibly have changed the legitimate outcome of the election for the leader of the free world. Some states like my own, Maryland, actually went back to paper ballots in light of the cyber threat.

We also witnessed the allegation that nation state and non-nation state actors had hacked into candidate and party systems to steal not only national security information that was not supposed to be there, but also the private communications of the candidate and party strategists. Later this information was allegedly provided to an anarchist social media site and leaked in order to influence the conversation and election. You can’t make this stuff up.

How about the unprecedented participation of the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Cyber Centers monitoring the elections and critical infrastructure to ensure the integrity and availability of these systems so that people could vote? All of these are controlled by cyber.

What about your Twitter or Facebook account before and during the election? I know you have one. I dare say you did not scroll through a single screen that didn’t have at least one political statement from your friends or family trying to influence your vote.

The national and international news media have always been tremendously influential in our elections, costing campaigns millions of dollars each cycle. But now cyber gives them the capability to instantly capture a statement, photo, video, voice clip, and immediately communicate it to their audiences. They can do this at the speed of light. How many 24-hour news channels are there today? Everything is digital.

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Social media now gives every person the power to produce a message that can go viral and rival these huge news media machines.

I have been saying for over 30 years that cyber was the great equalizer. Cyber creates power for the powerless. It gives literally everyone a powerful voice.

I predict that someday people will become citizens of virtual countries based on ideology and not geography. People would pay virtual taxes and receive benefits from their virtual country. They would conduct cyber elections for their selected virtual country based on shared ideology. Someday people could live in their own virtual world. Remember Second Life? Scary!

But as we have seen, cyber is a double-edged sword. Cyber can be used for good but also for evil. There is a significant percentage of the world population that is simply evil. Cyber gives all people, good and evil, the capability and power to find others with like opinions. You can meet, organize, and act without ever meeting or talking with your virtual ally. Think about ISIS. This new and powerful cyber age must have honest people and secure technologies to counter the evil and ensure that it is used for good.

It’s a new world whether you understand it or not, whether you agree with it or not, whether you want it or not. It’s a new cyber age. The election has illustrated that. The train is rolling. You have a choice: get on the train or get run over by the train. The train is only gathering momentum.



Jim Christy is VP of Investigations and Digital Forensics at Cymmetria. Jim retired from the U.S. government in 2013, ending a career investigating computer crimes and running digital forensics labs that began in 1986 at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Jim can be reached by email at

Connect with Jim on Twitter: @jimchristyusdfc


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