Wed, May 10, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Macron hack attack proves futile

NY Times News Service, PARIS

French president-elect Emmanuel Macron, third left, leaves his home in Paris yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Maybe it was the suspect timing of the leaked documents or the staggering amount and possibility that some were fake, or a feeling among the French that, having witnessed how hacking might have altered the US election, they would not fall for the same ploy.

Whatever the reasons, newspapers and broadcasters in France have so far conspicuously avoided reporting any details of what was described on Friday last week as a “massive” pre-election hacking attack on French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s campaign.

The bereft coverage extended into Monday night, well after a 44-hour legal ban on election reporting surrounding the Sunday vote had lifted.

By then it was clear that the hacked material — regardless of what it might contain — had caused no ill effects to the campaign of Macron, who won decisively over far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The contrast with the US presidential campaign was sharp: Hacking of US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton that was traced to Russia might have played a role in her defeat by US President Donald Trump, but news of the hacking in France was met with silence, disdain and scorn.

The contrast might have been amplified further by the absence of a French equivalent to the thriving tabloid culture in Britain or the robust right-wing broadcast media in the US, where the Clinton hacking attack generated enormous negative coverage.

“We don’t have a Fox News in France,” said Johan Hufnagel, managing editor of the leftist daily Liberation. “There’s no broadcaster with a wide audience and personalities who build this up and try to use it for their own agendas.”

He also said that French voters, with the benefit of hindsight, were suspicious of destabilizing developments such as the ones that might have affected the vote in the US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit referendum in June last year.

“French voters didn’t want to get into that game,” Hufnagel said. “They were mentally prepared after Trump and Brexit and the Russians, even if it’s not clear they’re behind it.”

Some Macron supporters initially feared that the reports of the hacking and his inability to respond could be devastating on the eve of voting.

The hacking lit up social media, especially in the US, where far-right activists have joined together to spread extremist messages in Europe.

On the day of the election, the French-language version of Sputnik, a Russian news outlet, played up social media coverage of the leaks, but the leaks did not get much traction in France, where news outlets respected the blackout.

The documents landed at the 11th hour, without time for journalists to scrutinize them before the ban went into effect.

The news media also heeded an admonition by the government’s campaign regulatory body not to publish false news. Macron’s campaign said that fake documents had been mixed in with authentic ones.

There were also reports that Macron’s campaign, well aware that it was a hacking target, had deliberately fed hackers false information in responding to phishing e-mails, which might explain why the leaked data was disseminated late in the campaign.

“You can flood these addresses with multiple passwords and logins, true ones, false ones, so the people behind them use up a lot of time trying to figure them out,” the Daily Beast quoted Mounir Mahjoubi, the head of Macron’s digital team, as saying.

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