Last month, we at WIRED posed the hypothetical: “Imagine if Donald Trump Controlled the NSA.” The notion at the time seemed unlikely but disturbing: A man who had called for his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, to be jailed; who casually stated, “I wish I had that power,” when asked about his invitation to Russian hackers to dig up her old emails; who even reportedly eavesdropped on calls between guests and staff at his Mar-a-lago hotel, would control the world’s most powerful surveillance capabilities.
We won’t have to imagine that scenario for much longer: In two months, it will be a reality.
As the shockwaves of Trump’s victory rippled across the world, WIRED has scrambled to capture what it means for the realm of hackers and spies: Security and foreign policy analysts warned that it would only embolden the Russian hackers who injected chaos into the presidential campaign and the Democratic party. Election day itself got a taste of alt-right hacking, as an anonymous poster on 4Chan appeared to target a Clinton get-out-the-vote phone bank—but inadvertently hamstrung both Democrat and Republican calling efforts. Edward Snowden and other privacy activists warned that the surveillance powers expanded under Obama could be abused by Trump and called for Americans to use encryption tools to protect themselves. And WIRED offered a primer on how Trump will reshape national security policy, including his likely support for the Syrian regime of dictator Bashar Al-Assad.
And there was more. Each Saturday we round up the news stories that we didn’t break or cover in depth but that still deserve your attention. This week we’re focusing on the security ramifications of Trump’s win. As always, click on the headlines to read the full story in each link posted. And as always, stay safe out there.
The battles Silicon Valley has fought with Obama’s Justice Department over iPhone and Whatsapp encryption may have just been a dress rehearsal. Tech firms now fear Trump’s DOJ would make even more intrusive demands that they hand over users’ private data. Two tech companies told Buzzfeed, for instance, that they were considering moving their servers and even headquarters out of the US to place them beyond the legal reach of a Trump administration. Trump, after all, called for a boycott against Apple when it refused to write software to help the FBI crack its iPhone encryption earlier this year.
Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani told Fox News on Thursday that he would “love to become the person that comes up with a solution to cybersecurity” in the Trump administration. After working as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s and serving as NYC mayor, Giuliani and a few members of his mayoral administration started the management and security consulting firm Giuliani Partners in 2002. More recently he became head of the cybersecurity and crisis management practice at the law firm Greenberg Traurig. This may explain his seemingly out-of-the-blue desire to work on federal cybersecurity initiatives. But given the allegations of cronyism surrounding Giuliani Partners detailed in a 2007 Washington Post investigation, Giuliani has at times seemed more interested in profiting from cybersecurity issues than solving them.
Less than 24 hours after WIRED reported that experts were warning Trump’s victory would lead to more Russian political hacking, a series of attacks surfaced. In the wake of Trump’s victory speech, the same Kremlin-linked hackers who are believed to have attacked the Democratic National Committee began targeting would-be victims at American universities, think tanks, the State Department and Radio Free Europe. The attacks used malware-laced phishing emails purporting to have information about the election, according to Motherboard, which was forwarded one of the messages. The malware they contained, hidden in image files, was designed to create stealthy backdoors into the computers of anyone who opened them.
Given fears of increased domestic surveillance under Trump, privacy activists are advising that Americans adopt encryption and privacy tools—particularly journalists, activists, and anyone else who plans on opposing the administration’s policies. Those security tips, of course, aren’t actually any different than they were before Tuesday: Use encrypted texting and calling apps like Signal, the anonymity software Tor when possible, strong passwords generated by a password manager, two-factor authentication, HTTPS-encrypted websites, and in general, the services of companies, like Apple, that have opposed government invasions of privacy rather than those, like Yahoo, that have recently caved to broad spying demands.
Amid all the anti-Trump sentiment from the privacy community, it’s worth remembering that Obama shares much of the blame for the surveillance powers Trump will now wield. As Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm writes in a column for the Guardian, Obama had the opportunity to repudiate the expansion of surveillance powers that occurred under Bush. Just as Obama chose to “look forward, not backward” when it came to punishing the illegal torture and human rights abuses that occurred under the previous administration, Timm argues that Obama failed to sufficiently scale back the spying powers of the NSA, even after Snowden’s revelations. Now those vast powers will be in the hands of, as Timm puts it, “a maniac.” He writes that “it will go down in history as perhaps President Obama’s most catastrophic mistake.”
Lily Hay Newman contributed to this story.