In 2016, Moscow brought a threat that has long plagued many Central and Eastern European capitals to the heart of Washington, DC. Russia hacked the U.S. Democratic National Committee’s system and subsequently released the confidential material to the public in a clear attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.1 The cyber attack was paired with a disinformation campaign whose scope and reach is still being assessed more than a year later. The administration of then president Barack Obama was certainly concerned about potential hacking—especially given the malware attack during Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election—but all evidence to date suggests that the Russian government achieved significant success without actually hacking election infrastructure. The U.S. government was essentially caught off guard.
After witnessing the events in the United States, a number of European leaders scrambled to protect their countries against similar interference in their 2017 elections. Some of their actions appear to have been successful, but given the urgency, they were likely hindered by ad hoc coordination and knowledge sharing. Systematically studying these efforts and others could proactively help to inform the development of long-term strategies and tools to improve countries’ resilience to future attacks. More importantly, such analysis could pave the way for sharing lessons learned and best practices across countries—an urgent effort considering that, in 2018 alone, elections will take place in Georgia, Latvia, Sweden, Brazil, and Mexico, among others. And in 2019, elections to the European Parliament will occur. Looking ahead to the November 2018 U.S. midterm elections and the next presidential election in 2020, U.S. officials are particularly worried about further meddling. According to U.S. Director for National Intelligence Daniel Coats, “there should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target.”2 So as the United States and other countries ponder how to better prepare for interference,3 what can be drawn from Europe’s recent experiences?