Elections are the Latest Playgrounds for Social Engineers

Mathew Sayer In the News

In a previous post, we examined how House of Cards was using hacking as an essential plot point in upcoming elections. An interview published on March 31 in Bloomberg with Andrés Sepúlveda tells the real story of how hackers are being used to sway elections in Latin America. The message within the interview shows a stark paradigm shift in how elections are fought thanks to the Internet.

Sepúlveda is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Colombia for espionage and hacking. In the interview, he claims to have been involved in fixing elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Venezuela since 2005. Working closely with Miami-based political consultant J.J. Rendón over an eight-year period Sepúlveda would use his technical prowess to build teams to conduct online psyops.

It was his relationship with J.J. Rendón that brought him both success and ultimately seems to have led to his arrest- Sepúlveda says he went to work for a rival campaign in the 2014 Colombian election. Sepúlveda describes himself as motivated by (right-wing) ideology, not money.

“He could have made a lot more hacking financial systems than elections” (Bloomberg)

The online psychological operations Sepúlveda describes conducting are very similar to those used in Britain’s JTRIG. Dirty tricks in politics are nothing new, but the methods employed by Sepúlveda and dozens of other unseen operatives are not yet widely known. Hacking does not just mean technical disruption. A hack subverts the ‘proper’ function of something. Making and controlling thousands of Twitter accounts is a hack in the technical sense, but the real hack is taking place on a different level;  in the minds of those who will read the articles about a trending hashtag.

“I’m 100 percent sure it is” – Sepúlveda on whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with (Bloomberg)

Readers will be delighted to hear that J.J. Rendón has reportedly been courted by the Trump campaign team. He denies this, as he denies the allegations levelled at him by Sepúlveda. Whether or not Rendón is involved misses the point; online dirty tricks evolved and spread worldwide. So don’t trust Twitter, don’t trust Facebook, don’t trust the trends and certainly don’t believe Trump.