Watergate Plumbers

Episode 171: Stopping the 21st Century’s Plumbers – Defending Digital Campaigns from Hackers

In this week’s episode of the podcast (#171): as voters go to the polls in the UK and primaries loom here in the U.S., we sit down with Michael Kaiser, the CEO of a new group: Defending Digital Campaigns and Joel Wallenstrom, the CEO of secure collaboration platform Wickr to discuss efforts to extend an information security lifeline to political campaigns in an era of epidemic campaign hacking and online disinformation.


Cyber attacks on high profile political campaigns aren’t just an artifact of the 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. or the 2015 Brexit referendum in the UK. In fact, attacks on campaigns – at home and abroad- predate those events and have now become more the rule than the exception. Just in the last year, there is evidence of campaign hacks and damaging leaks in the US midterm elections and in the lead-up to this week’s Parliamentary elections in the UK.

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There are many explanations for why campaign hacks and attacks have become a fixture of modern elections. For one thing: campaigns operate almost entirely online these days, making the crowbar and flashlight routine of the Watergate burglars unnecessary. But campaigns are also slap dash affairs: spun up quickly, with ever evolving and revolving staff, and spun down just as quickly after the voting is finished.

Michael Kaiser CEO of Defending Digital Campaigns
Michael Kaiser is the CEO of Defending Digital Campaigns.

Furthermore, despite the never-ending media fixation on hacks of voting infrastructure, malicious operations to discredit candidates and campaigns are easier and have been shown to actually sway outcomes.

And finally: campaigns run on shoestring budgets, with most of their available cash devoted to getting the candidate’s message out to voters. Cyber security tools and talent are not a high priority.

Still: in the wake of the 2016 election hacking, plenty of cyber security firms stood ready to offer both tools and talent…for free, or at steep discounts. But then there’s the matter of federal election rules, which consider such discounts as ‘in kind’ gifts that were disallowed campaign donations.

Enter Defending Digital Campaigns (DDC). The not-for-profit group that was created to give campaigns access to cybersecurity products, services and information regardless of party affiliation.

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Joel Wallenstrom is the CEO of Wickr.
Joel Wallenstrom is the CEO of Wickr

The group includes political heavy hitters: the former presidential campaign managers for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, as well as former senior officials at the NSA and DHS, and the tech industry. Critically, DDC has something no single cyber security firm does: Federal Election Commission permission to provide discounted cyber security services to federal candidate committees and national party committees.

With the Iowa Caucuses just months away and the race for the U.S. Presidency heating up, we invited Michael Kaiser, the President & CEO of Defending Digital Campaigns the studio to talk to us about the group. Joining him is Joel Wallenstrom, the CEO of secure messaging and collaboration platform Wickr, which is offering its technology to campaigns via DDC.

To start off I asked Michael and Joel to talk about the purpose that DDC serves and how they got involved in the organization.


As always,  you can check our full conversation in our latest Security Ledger podcast at Blubrry. You can also listen to it on iTunes and check us out on SoundCloudStitcherRadio Public and more. Also: if you enjoy this podcast, consider signing up to receive it in your email. Just point your web browser to securityledger.com/subscribe to get notified whenever a new podcast is posted. 

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