Election cyberattacks go local

Published: Sep. 26, 2018 at 5:23 PM PDT
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"This could be the canary in the coal mine."

As a candidate for Washoe County Assessor, Chip Evans seems an unlikely target for a cyber attack. Then again he's also the least likely to be labeled a white supremacist. But that's exactly what has happened and he's worried he won't be the last.

It began more than a year ago when he joined a Facebook group called Teachers Protesting Gun Violence.

Recently unknown hackers hijacked that group and began turning it into something totally different, dragging Evans' name into some unsavory places.

"A series of names that indicate they're anti-semitic and white supremacist. And they 'scootch' up my greeting to the group from May 2017 next to this title that says something like 'Teachers that want to send all the Jews back to the Holocaust' or something god awful like that."

Reaction was quick and angry. Posts shaming Evans for his supposed racist views, vows not to vote for him. That too, may have been part of the hack.

"Within about a three-hour period there were about 30 posts and they were all kind of prepared beforehand obviously. And these were fake accounts, 'bots' as they're called."

Evans' campaign staff spent some time dealing with the hack, notifying Facebook, local law enforcement, even the FBI, learning there's a limit to what can be done or what some are willing to do.

"Facebook won't take that extra step and say where this garbage is coming from. And they won't take up the investigation to go figure out where's the money, follow the money, and why are people doing this."

He says an investigator told him Facebook once had a phone line for law enforcement to call in situations like this. They no longer do.

He doubts the hack has had much of an effect on his campaign.

"They picked the silliest thing possible. I think anyone who knows anything about me or looks up anything about my past would say that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Evans is a longtime member of the NAACP and has been a visible presence in local progressive causes.

But he does worry what he's experienced may be just the beginning in American politics.

"There's no reason we wouldn't see this spread unless or until Facebook gets seriously involved in batting it down. We need them to do that. And law enforcement has the tools and ability to go after this because this sort of disruption in our election process can't happen anywhere at any level. It's just wrong."

We've been told this kind of Facebook hack isn't particularly difficult to do or expensive. One tech person told us it could probably be hired out for $5 to $10 thousand and you might find the hacker on Craig's List.

We've also been told this same sort of thing has happened in local races elsewhere.

Evans' opponent in the race, incumbent Mike Clark, sent us a statement saying had not heard of the attack, and, describing himself as 'not tech-savvy'. He asked if we should all be concerned.

Maybe we should.