There’s no question that this has been a big year for government hacking. Not a day has gone by without some mention of it in the news. 2016 may forever be remembered as the year when government hacking went so mainstream that Stephen Colbert cracked jokes about Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear on The Late Show. The Obama administration has publicly blamed the Russian government for a series of compromises of U.S. political institutions and individuals in this election year, including the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and John Podesta, former Chairman of the Hillary Clinton election campaign. Political espionage is nothing new, but what distinguishes this series of attacks is the element of publication. This election cycle was dominated by news stories stemming from DNC and Podesta emails leaked to and published by Wikileaks, which has repeatedly said that it will not comment on sources but denies that the source of the documents is Russian.
Whether or not Kremlin-directed hacking tipped the scales in this year’s presidential election towards Donald Trump is unclear, but paranoia about Russian hacking has successfully sown confusion all over the world. The Obama administration has ordered a full review of foreign-based digital attacks aimed at disrupting the election and European governments are reportedly bracing for Russian interference in next year’s elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
But Russia did not corner the market on developments in government hacking this year. In February, a U.S. federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to break the security of an iPhone as part of the investigation into the 2015 San Bernardino shootings. Apple fought the order on the grounds that complying would compromise the security of all iPhone users. Technology companies and civil society spoke out stridently against this dangerous precedent and eventually the FBI withdrew its request after they found another way to access the contents of the iPhone.