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election security
July 26, 2019

In the past 36 hours, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller emphasized that Russia is still working diligently to meddle in U.S. elections, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia and other foreign adversaries are finding new ways to exploit U.S. election vulnerabilities, and the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report that found Russia had targeted all 50 states in 2016 and "top election vulnerabilities remained" in the 2018 elections and continue to this day, though progress has been made.

In those same 36 hours, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has blocked two bills to shore up election security, one already passed by the House, calling them unnecessary reactions to a partisan Russia election meddling "conspiracy theory."

McConnell, who also blocked an election security bill ahead of the 2018 elections, argued that the federal government is doing and spending enough to ensure election security. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called congressional inaction a "disgrace" and slammed McConnell, reminding him of Mueller's warning that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election "as we sit here." Other Democrats were similarly critical of McConnell, notably Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), who wrote a Senate Intelligence Committee minority report urging more action.

But not only Wyden.

The Senate Intelligence Committee encouraged states, which run elections, to "take urgent steps to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems," specifically those with outdated software and the thousands of local election jurisdictions using machines that don't leave a paper trail to audit votes. "More money may be needed," the committee advised. Even if Congress acted now, it's not clear states could make the recommended substantial upgrades before the 2020 election, much less primary voting that begins in six months. Peter Weber

April 30, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report details Russia's sophisticated, "sweeping, and systematic" campaign to interfere in America's 2016 election to aid President Trump, as well as the Trump campaign's receptivity to Russia's apparently ultimately fruitless overtures. U.S. intelligence and national security officials say they are working diligently to quash Russian attempts to meddle in the 2020 election.

U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies are "tracking cyber threats, sharing intelligence about foreign disinformation efforts with social media companies, and helping state election officials protect their systems against foreign manipulation," The Washington Post reports. But Trump's public skepticism of Russia's interference, private bristling at the implication his 2016 win is tainted by illegitimacy, and "lack of focus on election security has made it tougher for government officials to implement a more comprehensive approach to preserving the integrity of the electoral process, current and former officials said." The Post gives some examples from the past two years:

"It's a goddamn hoax," Trump said in one meeting with advisers in 2017 when they tried to discuss what the government should do to deter Russian operations. ... In one meeting in late summer 2018 in the Situation Room, aides told Trump that they wanted to talk publicly to raise voters' awareness of the interference ahead of the midterm. According to an official familiar with the meeting, Trump placed a condition on any public statements: The aides must also make clear that Russia didn't influence his win. [The Washington Post]

On the record, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other officials say they have Trump's full and explicit support to counter Russian election attacks, but that doesn't mean they bother Trump with the details. "We don't seek daily validation from the White House on what our mission should be or is," one official tells the Post. 'We have clear authorities. We have budget. We're grown-ups here." You can read more about Trump and election security at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

November 8, 2018

Federal officials haven't found evidence of hacking in the midterms, but they're still bracing for 2020.

Officials say there were "no obvious voting system compromises" during the midterm elections this year, reports The Associated Press. There was an increase in the reporting of possible cyber threats since 2016, but that's largely because of "better awareness" since 2016, intelligence officials said.

Still, that doesn't mean that the country's voting systems aren't still vulnerable to attacks, and AP notes that officials are "wondering whether foreign agents are saving their ammunition for the 2020 presidential showdown or planning a late-stage misinformation campaign to claim Tuesday's election had been tainted."

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that foreign agents have "shown will" and "the capability" to interfere, declining to speculate on "why they're doing or not doing something." None of this is to say there was no attempted interference at all this year, though, as there's also the matter of foreign entities attempting to spread false news on social media.

The Department of Homeland Security's head of cybersecurity said that for foreign agents, the midterms were "not the big game." That would be the 2020 presidential election. Between now and then, experts warn that actions must be taken in order to secure the country's election systems, pointing to outdated software used by a number of states that leaves them vulnerable to intrusions. Brendan Morrow

October 19, 2018

A Russian woman who was working for a Russian oligarch-funded project intended to conduct "information warfare against the United States" was charged Friday by the Justice Department, reports CBS News. She is the first person to be charged in relation to interference in the 2018 elections.

The woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, allegedly spread content online that sought to fan the flames of "political intensity through supporting radical groups" and inciting racial tension. The project, dubbed "Project Lakhta," leveraged social media to spread divisive messages. A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin's, oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, is allegedly behind two companies that ran the ongoing project to export political discord.

Separately, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that U.S. intelligence officials haven't seen any evidence that foreign countries are working to interfere in any specific race in the upcoming midterm elections, The Daily Beast reports. Russia, China, and Iran "may seek to influence voter perceptions," he said, but no specific races have been targeted. Read more at about Project Lakhta at CBS News. Summer Meza

August 24, 2018

Tech companies are banding together to mitigate election interference.

Executives from companies like Facebook and Twitter are meeting Friday to discuss their efforts to secure their platforms ahead of the midterm elections, BuzzFeed News reports.

An email from Facebook's head of cybersecurity shows that a dozen companies are joining in on the meeting at Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco, including social media brands like Snapchat and other major companies like Google and Microsoft. The meeting is a follow-up after nine companies met at Facebook in May to talk with the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force. This time, reports BuzzFeed News, the representatives will share what they are doing to counter efforts to manipulate their platform, discuss what problems they face, and consider making the meetings a recurring event.

Social media platforms have been removing foreign accounts that are spreading misleading political content, as well as cracking down on accounts that are suspected to be part of coordinated manipulation efforts. Each company is reportedly deploying a unique strategy in the last couple of months before the midterm elections, and the secret meeting is intended to align the strategies as the platforms face increasing scrutiny from users and lawmakers. Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

August 22, 2018

The Democratic National Committee reached out to the FBI on Tuesday to report an attempted hack on its voter database, CNN reported Wednesday, citing a "Democratic source."

A cybersecurity firm alerted the DNC that a fake login page was created in an effort to gain access to the party's database, though it's unclear who was behind the suspected spearphishing operation. The source said there's no reason to believe that the attack was successful, but the cybersecurity firm's vice president of security intelligence told CNN the effort was "very convincing" and would have been "very effective" had it not been caught.

The DNC's chief security officer, Bob Lord, said in a statement that the Trump administration needs to "take more aggressive steps to protect our voting systems. It is their responsibility to protect our democracy from these types of attacks." Read more at CNN. Summer Meza

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