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Political campaigns prep for battle with hackers


Candidates are quizzing prospective campaign managers on anti-hacking plans. Democratic committees like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which was breached last year, have switched internally from email to encrypted messaging apps. And both parties are feverishly trying to spread advice and best practices to new campaigns before they become targets.

The political world is officially obsessed with cybersecurity in 2017 — especially the Democrats burned by the hacking of their committees and operatives during the 2016 election. Much of the Democratic Party’s permanent apparatus has already changed its day-to-day operations as a result, while beginning the slow process of persuading its decentralized, startup-like campaign ecosystem to follow suit.

House Democrats’ top strategists have urged consultants working on their campaigns to start using Wickr, the end-to-end encrypted messaging app used inside the DCCC — but the consulting community has been slow to give up email and embrace the program, say three Democratic consultants involved in House races. Security measures vary widely from race to race, leaving many still vulnerable to hacking, and members of both parties say they are seeking centralized clearinghouses of anti-hacking information and services.

An average state or congressional campaign will likely never be the prime hacking target that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were in 2016. But operatives warned that the only way to secure a political party’s information is to get everyone on the same page — and that the best way to prevent hacking in the 2020 presidential campaign is to have a security-first culture change take root before then.

“I just don’t think there’s anyone whose job it is, really. There’s no clearinghouse,” said Michael Ambler, campaign manager for the gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. “For finance or fundraising or field, there are best practices … passed down from older campaigns. There really isn’t anything comparable for data security.”

Though Democrats were the ones targeted by hacks in 2016, Republicans are also looking to improve cybersecurity — and they are finding that resources are uneven, with no uniform recommendations ready for campaigns at every level.

“There’s no recommendation on our side,” said Republican consultant Brad Todd, a top strategist on Senate and House races around the country.

The Democratic committees that were breached in 2016 have been especially eager to install stronger hacking protections this year. The DNC has brought in a new chief technology officer, Raffi Krikorian, and started running anti-phishing drills. Chairman Tom Perez is among a growing number of political figures using the secure messaging app Signal, BuzzFeed reported. The DNC has also started a cybersecurity advisory board to stop hacking and is expected to roll out a “campaign toolkit” that will be available to candidates across the country.

The DCCC, another 2016 victim, moved its internal communication off email and onto Wickr, as have the DSCC and the Democratic Governors Association. And in a…

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