Robby Mook on the campaign trail in Las Vegas
Robby Mook on the campaign trail in Las Vegas

“You're definitely gonna see on the next presidential campaign, every campaign will have a CISO”, said Robby Mook, the manager of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, as he explained his experiences at ground zero of the election hacking of the 2016 election at the Dtex Global Insider Threat Summit in London.

“We had someone who did security full time,” Mook told the crowd. “I thought I was way ahead of the curve in starting the campaign and doing that, and in retrospect I would have 10 times that.”

When Mook accepted the job of being Hillary Clinton's campaign manager for 2016, he knew that there would be vulnerabilities in the campaign. China had attempted to hack both the Obama and McCain campaigns in 2008 and the same happened in 2012. He expected the possibility, that similar groups would try again.

“If you pulled me aside in 2015,”  said Mook, “I would have said that its very likely they'll get in there. But what we didn't understand is that this didn't necessarily just need to be espionage.”

What separated this from earlier attempts was what they did with that information. Previous attempts were likely espionage operations. This was information warfare.

“When we heard it was the Russians”, added Mook, “we realised this could be something a lot worse.”

Both the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign's chairman, John Podesta were subject to separate breaches. The emails were then leaked through Wikileaks and spread heavily throughout coverage of the campaign.

“I think that concept was so wild to people that it was largely brushed back”, said Mook. When he went to the Democratic convention, “it was totally treated as spin, that it was a deflection from what really mattered, which was the emails.”

“In retrospect we weren't a good messenger because people thought we were spinning,”

In the longer run, the world did take notice. Voting publics in several European elections the next year were highly cognisant of that possibility. “France is a good example to tee off of”, said Mook. While there were attempts at foreign influence in France's recent election, you also had a media blackout which mitigated false, or embarrassing information proliferating. Second, "social media platforms, particularly facebook, were very aggressive about pulling down malicious sites." Thirdly, added Mook, "you had a non-military, non-law enforcement governmental body that was actively collaborating with the campaigns to harden their security and would help them in the event of a breach."

"We need to really study that in the United States," said Mook. Unfortunately, intelligence agencies will never be able to hand over the intelligence that campaigns need but, "as campaigns we need to come together and better support ourselves."

Conversely social media and news media “need take a step back and in this environment, what are the new rules of the road?" Journalists and social media companies restrict themselves from reporting on certain things, so why not documents stolen and publicised for political ends?

“There is a soft underbelly to the digital space that I don't think we were really aware of”, said Mook. He added that though he is not a national or cyber-security expert, he thinks this kind of threat will have to be taken account of at such critical democratic junctures as elections. “Russia was so wildly successful that we have to expect that - North Korea, Iran - others will do this.”