Though technical security experts warn of a cyber attack during the Democratic National Convention, some say that the convention could be subject to a different type of infiltration. Some hackers engage in social engineering, pretending to be people they’re not — like a janitor or a caterer — in order to gain access into restricted areas. These types of hacks not only require counterfeit identification to pull it off, but demand incredible skill and confidence on the part of the play actor.
One of the most famous social engineering hacks occurred at the 1968 DNC in Chicago, though it had nothing to do with the rioting between police and protesters. According to Gene Spafford, executive director of Purdue University’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, an operative with the Republican National Committee executed a widespread hack in Chicago months before the convention that reverberated at the main event.
The operative organized a group of people to wear Democratic Party pins and take cabs throughout the city. These individuals would tip the cab drivers next to nothing and as they got out of the cabs, they would say to the driver, "Remember to vote Democrat this fall!" When the convention rolled around, fed up cab drivers avoided people wearing Democratic Party pins. The effect on the convention was disastrous.
"It stalled meetings. Nobody could get a cab anywhere," says Spafford, who warns that a similar social engineering hack could occur at this month’s DNC in Denver. "If you have someone with a little imagination at a political convention, they could conduct operations that could be disruptive or create ill will locally."