Want to influence an election? All you need is about $400,000, according to cyber security consultant Trend Micro Inc. That’s the sum it takes to buy followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, hire companies to write and disseminate fake news postings over a period of 12 months, and run sophisticated web sites to influence public opinion, according to Udo Schneider, a security expert for the German-speaking market at Trend Micro. “Hacking the actual voting process isn’t worth it as it leaves traces, is very expensive and technologically challenging,” Schneider said Wednesday at a security conference organized by Deutsche Telekom AG in Berlin. Yet influencing public opinion via fake news and data leaks, as is believed to have happened during the U.S. and French election campaigns, is relatively simple and “could also happen ahead of the German elections.”
German politicians are increasingly concerned that outside forces will try to influence the country’s Sept. 24 vote, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Senior security officials have pointed to Russia as pushing fake news and silently supporting hackers who have targeted the German parliament as well as two think tanks associated with the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, Germany’s two main parties. Russia has repeatedly denied it’s hacked foreign governments.
Germany’s political parties are “completely transparent” for motivated hackers because their infrastructure usually isn’t well protected, said Frank Rieger, a spokesman for the Chaos Computer Club, a German collective of about 5,500 hackers that acts as a tech watchdog in Europe’s biggest economy. Manipulating preliminary results on the eve of the elections is “entirely possible,” he said at the same event.