When the New York Times published its blockbuster scoop about President Donald Trump’s tax returns, a lot of cybersecurity experts had traumatic flashbacks to four years ago.
Just a few weeks before the 2016 election, recordings were leaked of Trump on the set of Access Hollywood describing his strategy to sexually assault women. The news threatened to derail his presidential bid.
Less than an hour later, Wikileaks began publishing emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chair John Podesta, whose account had been hacked by Russian intelligence.
The goal was to distract from the Access Hollywood tapes, and the tactic worked.
Despite containing relatively little news for tens of thousands of pages of documents, the hacked-and-leaked emails eclipsed the tapes—in part because media, technology companies, and the government agencies were not prepared for such a well-planned Russian influence operation. The tens of thousands of pages of documents were enough to overwhelm the news cycle anyway. It proved just how vulnerable journalists and Silicon Valley were to this new twist on the old art of information warfare.