Culture

The FBI messed up ahead of the 2016 election. This year it promises to do better.

The bureau says its doing everything it can to avoid a repeat of the DNC email debacle, or other hacks that could compromise this year's election.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The 2016 presidential race continues to haunt United States officials for a plethora of reasons — political discord, hackers contributing to the success of the Donald Trump campaign by leaking internal emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and Russian meddling. Especially unsettling for Capitol Hill among both federal agents and lawmakers is the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initially approached the threat of hacking and content manipulation in 2016. As Wired reports, the FBI did not state the danger of being hacked forcefully enough. The rest is history.

It sounds like a case of stunning mistranslation. In an interview with Wired, various FBI officials don't necessarily admit that they were lax about security measures and the need to alert DNC figures. But they do note that they have "revamped" their security strategy since 2016, implicitly conceding their approach needed a makeover.

Among those changes is the FBI introducing a policy to immediately notify state government officials about any potential hacks the bureau identifies. The idea, according to section chief of FBI's cybersecurity department Mike Herrington, is to "gain the full cooperation of potential victims."

Get proactive — According to Wired, previously the victims of security breaches would most often be notified after the event, but which time the damage was already done. In the past few years, however, former National Security Agency hacker Jake Williams says that the FBI has taken a more proactive approach and alerted the affected about potential security threats well in advance.

This kind of early notification doesn't guarantee that an official or an organization won't be hacked, but it gives their security architecture experts time to plan evasive moves, or response and damage-control plans. Given that social media networks like Facebook have reported about foreign networks conducting coordinated manipulation campaigns as recently as August, and the presence of fake accounts pushing political propaganda on Twitter, this kind of alert modus operandi could prevent a repeat of the events leading up to the 2016 presidential election that may have fundamentally altered its outcome.

Get creative, get aggressive, and do it quickly — Instead of waiting months before tightening security procedures and not conveying the severity of a potential attack, now officials could tackle it in days, even hours.

Of course, hackers are known for evolving their tactics and adapting to new constraints. They even seem to thrive on them. If the federal agency realizes that hackers are some of the most prime examples of antifragility — the idea that some people and systems get even better because, not in spite of, adversity — it can radically improve its security techniques against miscreants, be it domestic or foreign.

Proactively closing the window on them — which sounds like a humble starting point — could improve cybersecurity by a considerable degree. More importantly, it could keep what's shaping up to be a difficult enough election, both free and fair.