French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron suffered a “massive, co-ordinated hacking” effort Friday night less than 48 hours before the election—an attack that drew immediate parallels to the cyberattacks that hit Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year, as well as to alleged electoral interference in other parts of Europe. Macron’s campaign announced Friday that tens of thousands of its internal emails and documents were leaked to the public via a file-sharing website.
The parallels to the 2016 U.S. election are striking: Both occurred days before an election. Both were carried out by hacking the personal and professional email accounts of campaign staffers. And both were directed at more establishment-friendly candidates—not their conservative opponents.
While the perpetrators of the Macron hack haven’t been identified, numerous intelligence agencies have expressed confidence that Russia was behind the hacking of Clinton’s emails during the 2016 U.S. election. Russia is also said to have targeted the French electoral process, as well as elections in other counties where the leading candidates have been critical of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Russia denies any such actions. But U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Putin ordered interference in the U.S. election to favor one candidate—though it said there was no evidence to suggest the interference was successful. Arguably the most important insight from the intelligence report was summed up in a single sentence by The New York Times: “This will happen again.” After witnessing the efficacy of its cyberattack on the U.S., the report said, Russia was preparing for future hacks on U.S. allies:
We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes. … The Kremlin and the intelligence services will continue to consider using cyber-enabled disclosure operations because of their belief that these can accomplish Russian goals relatively easily without significant damage to Russian interests.
In short, Friday’s hack of the Macron campaign was no surprise. In February, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault threatened Russia with retaliation should the country meddle in the French election. “We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, no more from Russia, by the way, than from any other state,” Ayrault said. He also said France would not stop short of “retaliatory measures” if necessary. “No foreign state can choose the future president of the Republic,” he said.