Mounting Uncertainty in Run-Up to Brazilian Election
Major political events can impact the threat landscape for businesses and government organizations, particularly during the run-up to major elections. This is especially true with the upcoming October general election in Brazil. Largely fueled by persistent political polarization and economic tensions, a climate of mounting uncertainty surrounding this election is already giving rise to cyber and physical security concerns stemming from the following areas:
Strikes and Hacktivism
On May 20, Brazilian truckers went on a 10-day strike to protest skyrocketing fuel prices, blockading highways and causing massive disruption to the country’s economy by cutting off critical distribution channels. The protests paralyzed the country: supermarket shelves were empty, factories were forced to shut down, a major sporting event was cancelled, and 11 airports ran out of fuel.
On May 26, in an attempt to regain national order and clear the highways, the Brazilian government authorized a military intervention against the truckers. In response, hacktivists who supported the truckers’ cause launched the #OpCaminhoneiros defacement campaign that same day, targeting multiple government websites.
To resolve the truckers’ strike, the cash-strapped government approved measures for the demanded fuel subsidies. However, since these subsidies were made possible through budget cuts to critical areas such as health and education, the impact of measures could potentially fuel additional hacktivist activity.
This incident was not an unusual occurrence; Brazilian hacktivist groups often respond to national political issues by defacing government websites and disclosing the personal information of politicians. For example, on May 8, a threat actor Flashpoint previously reported on in 2016 defaced multiple websites in protest of the current president, Michel Temer, including those of state and federal government entities, as well as multiple public universities. This actor’s work is not a standalone effort; hacktivists groups within Brazil have previously targeted the government, and officials to protest various social causes within the country.
Brazil’s polarized political climate and high social media usage makes its electorate highly susceptible to manipulation through fake news, which has come to play a prominent, subversive role in elections worldwide. Earlier this year, Brazilian officials established a dedicated task force to combat the spread of fake news, and consultations with leading tech companies have already led to the shutdown of hundreds of social media pages and accounts propagating election-related disinformation. Comprova, a recently announced, collaborative journalism coalition to fight misinformation in Brazil, kicked off on Aug. 6 and will continue until the October election.
Beyond the political implications of manipulating the electorate with false information, the polarizing effects of fake news can heighten sentiments of tension and distrust among the general population, potentially leading to volatile market conditions. At the same time, cracking down on online activity in a manner that violates Brazil’s free-speech laws may spark outrage among the population, prompting hacktivist retaliation.
Electronic Voting Security Concerns
In 1996, Brazil began to implement the electronic ballot machines which have since become the national standard for the country’s voting process. However, there have been public concerns about the machines’ ability to assure the confidentiality and integrity of the data they process. Public audits in 2009 and 2012 revealed vulnerabilities in the voting machines, and leading security researcher Diego de Freitas Aranha has reportedly uncovered new potential exploits ahead of the 2018 Brazilian federal elections.
Based upon the multiple layers of accountability and security inherent within the Brazilian voting process, it’s unlikely that hackers will be able to alter the final results of the upcoming elections. However, given the public’s concerns about voting machine security and distrust of the political class, Flashpoint analysts believe this fear, uncertainty, and doubt concerning the integrity of the 2018 federal elections process will likely remain or intensify as the election draws closer, potentially exacerbating existing social unrest.
Political and social instability inevitably have an impact on the business climate, creating risks such as hacktivism, protests, market instability, and policy change. As the October election draws closer, global organizations that operate or do business in Brazil should monitor the issues discussed above, along with other shifts that may arise in the country’s threat landscape, and adjust their risk-mitigation strategies accordingly.
Ian W. Gray
Director of Intelligence, Americas
Ian W. Gray is the director of intelligence for the Americas unit of Flashpoint’s Global Intelligence Team. Ian actively researches and analyzes cybercriminal use of new and emerging technologies for malicious purposes in English and Portuguese-language communities. Additionally, he has been researching policy gaps that contribute to various forms of fraud, as well as the economic factors contributing to cybercrime. Ian is also an adjunct Professor at Fordham University’s Master of Cybersecurity Program.