French presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron has been the victim of a “massive and coordinated hacking operation,” his campaign team said, slamming the attack as a last-ditch attempt to undermine him before Sunday’s election.
The document dump happened on Friday night, less than 48 hours before the country votes in the final round of the presidential election, which pits the independent centrist Macron against the far-right Marine Le Pen.
The files were released just before 2 p.m. ET Friday, around four hours before the election campaign period officially closed with its restrictions on campaigning, reporting and polling. These restrictions are aimed at preventing last-minute scandals from emerging and influencing the election’s outcome.
Around 14.5 gigabytes of emails, personal and business documents were posted to the text-sharing site Pastebin through links to more than 70,000 files, a CNN look at the data shows.
Officials from Macron’s En Marche! Party said in a statement that the perpetrators of the hack had mixed fake documents with authentic ones “to create confusion and misinformation.”
“The leak happened in the last hours of the campaign. This operation is clearly meant to undermine democracy, just like what happened in the US during the last presidential campaign,” the statement read.
US intelligence officials have said that Russia meddled in the November elections, and Congress is investigating the allegations. Russia has denied any interference.
En Marche said that some of the files circulating were obtained several weeks ago after personal and professional email accounts were hacked.
It was not clear who was behind the document dump, but the hack targeting Macron’s campaign used methods similar to the suspected Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee last year in United States, according to a report issued in April by cyber-security researchers.
Donald Trump won the election after information from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was released before the vote.
Meanwhile, The French media and public have been warned not to spread details about a hacking attack on presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Strict election rules are now in place and breaching them could bring criminal charges, the election commission said.
It is part of the restrictions that came into force at midnight local time on Friday.
No campaigning or media coverage of it that could sway the election is allowed until polls close at 20:00 local time (18:00 GMT) on Sunday. Some overseas French territories have already begun voting.
The election commission warned it could be a criminal offence to republish the leaked data.
Politicians and media are forbidden from giving details of, or commenting on, the leak.
The election commission said in a statement on Saturday: “On the eve of the most important election for our institutions, the commission calls on everyone present on internet sites and social networks, primarily the media, but also all citizens, to show responsibility and not to pass on this content, so as not to distort the sincerity of the ballot.”
Analysts have said that, given the open flow of social media content, policing this could be impossible.
The French daily Liberation covered the leak by publishing a general Q&A with a journalist.
Le Monde said it would “not publish the contents before the second round”. It said it would vet and publish relevant material but “respecting our journalistic and ethical rules”. It also carried a general Q&A of the leaks.
The hashtag #MacronLeaks appeared on Twitter on an account used by a US alt-right figure on Friday afternoon – and was reportedly retweeted 87 times in the first five minutes, suggesting the use of automated bots to spread the information faster.
Within 90 minutes, the information had caught the attention of prominent supporters of Marine Le Pen and was further spread by bots.
Some three-and-a-half hours after the initial tweet, #MacronLeaks had been used some 47,000 times and the prominent Wikileaks account played a key role in publicising the hashtag.
Wikileaks, which published those emails, posted a link to the Macron documents on Twitter but implied it was not responsible.
Mr. Macron’s team has already been the victim of hacking attacks, for which it has blamed groups based in Russia and Ukraine. It suspects the Kremlin of wanting to help Ms Le Pen, who supports a pro-Moscow foreign policy.
Last month security experts from the company Trend Micro said that Russian hackers were targeting Mr Macron’s campaign, using phishing emails, malware and fake net domains in an attempt to grab login names, passwords and other credentials of campaign staff. Russia has denied that it is behind attacks aimed at Mr Macron.
France’s voters have rejected the two big political parties – the Socialists and the Republicans – that have governed for decades.
Voters will be making a decision on France’s future direction and on its place at the heart of the European Union.
If they opt for liberal Emmanuel Macron, they will be backing a candidate who seeks EU reform as well as deeper European integration, in the form of a eurozone budget and eurozone finance ministers.
If instead they choose far-right Marine Le Pen she promises quite the opposite. She wants a Europe of nations to replace the EU.
If successful Sunday, Macron, at 39, would become the youngest president in the history of France and the nation’s youngest leader since Napoleon.
He has led a remarkable campaign, defying the traditional mainstream parties courtesy of his En Marche movement. For many, however, the campaign has become less about backing Macron and instead about voting against Le Pen, the National Front candidate.
French President François Hollande, Republican candidate François Fillon and the Socialist Party’s Benoit Hamon have come together to back Macron, claiming a Le Pen presidency would be disastrous for France.
But Macron also has his critics, who see him as elite out of touch with the public.
A former economy minister who made millions as an investment banker, Macron has been attacked from both the left and the right for his perceived arrogance.
But two polls released Friday, before polling restrictions went into effect, suggested he still held a 20-point lead.
So, when asked whether Russia was involved in the Macron email hack, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “These, like other similar accusations, are based on nothing and are pure slander.”
Russian officials have vehemently denied interfering in elections and have said they have no preferred candidate in the French vote.
Macron’s party chief, Richard Ferrand, accused Russia of trying to influence the election by spreading “fake news” about the candidate through its state-controlled media while reporting more favorably on Le Pen.
Russia has good reasons to support Le Pen.
Her anti-Europe and anti-NATO stance are perfectly aligned with Russian interests, and she has consistently called for closer ties with President Vladimir Putin.
She has also expressed a desire to roll back European Union sanctions on Russia after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which she has described as “unfair and silly.”
It is a stance that contrasts markedly with Macron, a pro-EU, pro-integration candidate who has said he would keep sanctions on Russia in place, if not add to them.