Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Jean Krasno

Second Advisor

Bruce Cronin


Cyber-attacks, Election Meddling, Active Measures, Russia


Cyber-attacks have become common occurrences which have an impact on all aspects of life ranging from business transactions to personal communications. Alarmingly, coordinated cyber-attacks are increasingly targeting politicians and their associates, political campaigns, political organizations and the broader public with political messaging. Given the novelty of these new forms of attacks, little is known of their potential impact. This thesis argues that states, state-directed actors, or non-state actors are disrupting, altering or influencing the electoral process in democratic states through coordinated cyber operations. It further argues that the purpose is to increase hyper-partisanship and erode the legitimacy of democratically-elected leaders. A quantitative study analyzing the data from a test group of consolidated democracies which had experienced these types of cyber operations displayed declining confidence in both their national governments and the honesty of their elections. By investigating the most prominent and verifiable cyber-attacks against state election processes, a connection between the attacks and Russia’s state intelligence services became apparent. Further research revealed Russian intelligence agencies’ historic use of covert ‘active measures’ and their current efforts to incorporate cyber operations within those measures, thus increasing active measures’ versatility and efficiency. Historic and geopolitical insight provided by an ex-official from a former Soviet Republic contextualized how these new cyber operations could be used to advance Russian geopolitical objectives.



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