May 6, 2017
The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has been targeted by a “massive and coordinated” hacking attack just hours before voters go to the polls, according to his campaign team.
Macron, who opinion polls suggest should win Sunday’s vote by 60% to his rival Marine Le Pen’s 40%, was unable to respond to the alleged attack because of a ban on electioneering in the run up to the opening of polling stations.
Tens of thousands of internal emails and other documents, some said to be false, were released online overnight on Friday as the midnight deadline to halt campaigning passed.
Macron’s En Marche! team said it was a clear attempt to destabilise the election. Faced with the “gravity of the situation” it would be taking all steps to throw light on who was behind the “unusual operation”.
Macron announced two days ago that he was taking legal action after Le Pen made a remark implying he had an offshore bank account in the Bahamas.
On Saturday morning, France’s presidential electoral authority, the CNCCEP, asked the media to avoid publishing information from the leaked documents and reminded them of their responsibilities given the seriousness of the election.
“The publishing of false information falls under the law, particularly criminal law,” it wrote.
Neither candidate could comment on the hacking because of the ban on communications and polls before the polling stations open at 8am on Sunday.
Article L49 of the electoral code states it is illegal to “broadcast to the public by any means of electronic communication anything that could be considered electoral propaganda” or for anyone to “bring to public attention any new element of electoral argument at a time when the target has no possibility to provide a useful response before the end of the election campaign”.
Around nine gigabytes of data was posted by a user called EMLEAKS to the document-sharing site Pastebin that allows anonymous posting. It was not immediately clear who was responsible.
En Marche! confirmed the hack, saying it had been the “victim of a massive and coordinated hack … which has given rise to the diffusion on social media of various internal information”.
The documents were posted as #MacronLeaks on social networks in the .eml format and linked to Pastebin. Le Monde reported that the first documents were relayed via the 4chan forum, which it said was favoured by far-right American groups and on English-language, pro-Trump Twitter accounts. They were then relayed to WikiLeaks.
The En Marche! statement said the data consisted of “diverse documents, such as emails, accounting documents and contracts” hacked several weeks ago from the personal and professional accounts of some of the movement’s staffers.
“Coming in the final hours of the campaign, this operation clearly amounts to democratic destabilisation as was seen in the United States,” it said, adding that En Marche! had “consistently been targeted by such initiatives” throughout the campaign.
It said “many false documents” had been added to genuine stolen documents on social media “in order to sow doubt and disinformation” as part of an operation “clearly intended to harm the movement”.
The authentic documents were all lawful, however, and “reflected the normal functioning of an election campaign”, the statement said. Their publication “does not alarm us as to the prospect of any questions being raised about their legality”.
The WikiLeaks website posted a Twitter link to the cache of documents, saying it “contains many tens of thousands (of) emails, photos, attachments up to April 24, 2017”. It indicated it was not responsible for the leak itself.
A French interior ministry official declined to comment, citing French rules barring any remarks liable to influence an election. The ban remains in place until all polling stations have closed at 8pm on Sunday.
Five opinion polls published on Friday forecast that Macron would win the election with a share of 62-63%, comfortably defeating his National Front rival in France’s most turbulent and potentially significant presidential race in decades.
A top official from Front National, Florian Philippot, asked on Twitter whether the leaked documents “would reveal anything that investigative journalism had kept quiet”.
Macron’s team has previously blamed Russian interests for repeated attempts to hack its systems during the campaign, saying on 26 April it had been the target of unsuccessful attempts to steal email credentials since January. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
During a visit by Le Pen to Moscow in March, Vladimir Putin said Russia had no intention of meddling in the elections, but analysts said the meeting implicitly signaled support for the Front National.
En Marche! banned certain Russian media from campaign events.
Trend Micro, a cybersecurity firm, said last month that a hacking group, believed to be part of a Russian intelligence unit, was targeting Macron and his campaign team, adding that it appeared to be the same Fancy Bear group behind the hacking of Democratic campaign officials before last year’s US presidential election.
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
The 39-year-old was raised in Picardy, studied philosophy and was briefly a rising star in the the civil service before joining Rothschild as an investment banker. He served François Hollande first as senior adviser then as economy minister, before resigning and launching his campaign. Macron defines himself as an energetic outsider, ‘of the left’ and progressive on social issues, but economically liberal and pro-business. His youthful movement En Marche! (Let’s Go!) draws thousands to its rallies. Opponents say his crusade to reinvent the political system is presumptuous and have criticised his deliberately flexible approach to policy.