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French candidate Macron targeted by ‘massive’ hacking attack

May 6, 2017 at 4:59 PM EDT
As French voters prepare to head to the polls, presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron confirmed he had been the target of a “massive hacking attack,” with campaign emails and financial documents posted online. Macron's campaign said that authentic documents were released alongside fake documents. Reuters reporter Eric Auchard joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Berlin with more on this developing story.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on this developing story, I’m joined by Skype by “Reuters” reporter Eric Auchard, who’s in Berlin.

Thanks for joining us. First of all, what were documents that were revealed on the Internet yesterday?

Well, there’s a whole trove of what purport to be the e-mails of various campaign, members of Macron’s campaign. There’s questions about whether all of them are the real thing or whether there have been some fake e-mails added in to try to embarrass the campaign. It appears to be e-mails from at least four members of the Macron campaign, senior advisers, speech writers, et cetera.

And put this in perspective where this is in the campaign. Now, these last couple of days, the candidates aren’t allowed to campaign, which is very different than American politics.

AUCHARD: The documents were dropped just hours before all the campaigns, the media are restricted from saying anything for 24 hours before the election begins.

SREENIVASAN: Is there likely to be an impact? What do the polls say? There are lots of undecided voters who could have been influenced by this information.

AUCHARD: The problem is this is a run-off. The two candidates that are in the run-off attract a total of around 45 percent, certainly under 50 percent of the total vote. So, a lot of people are having to consider second choices. So, there is the possibility of people changing their minds late in the game.

SREENIVASAN: Eric, is there concern in Germany and other parts of Europe that have elections and votes coming up out this type of hacking influencing the outcome?

AUCHARD: Many parties were very concerned about this. There’s been more signs of it, reports of attacks on think tanks connected to the two top German parties, the CDU and the SPD. That follows a series of attacks against the Bundestag, the German parliament, and the main political party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year.

SREENIVASAN: Has the computer science or the computer forensic community that looks at all of this, had they — I know that they haven’t gone through these particular hacks, but in the previous ones, have they started to point any fingers or figure out the general direction of where this is coming from?

AUCHARD: Some of the more veteran researchers that have been tracking the activities of a particular group connect to the Russian government. They connect to the Russian military intelligence directorate called the GRU. Their fingerprints have been found both in attacks on the Macron campaign a few weeks ago as well as some of the attacks in Germany.

They’ve been — this is a group that’s been active for more than a decade and has attacked militaries, foreign ministries, political parties in many countries. And yet, this is digital technology. It is very hard to prove. So, absolute certainty is simply not possible here.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Eric Auchard of “Reuters” joining us live via Skype from Berlin — thanks so much.

AUCHARD: Certainly.