On election day, the United States will prepare for four years of cyber-attacks on its electoral systems. But civil servants face an urgent problem: Misinformation, which can become all the more destructive the longer it takes to declare a winner.
Federal, state and local authorities are wary of making false statements aimed at discrediting election results when large states need a few days to count the votes. Election officials say they have finalised plans to monitor and combat these campaigns in recent weeks, while social media companies are stepping up their policies to curb the spread of this misinformation.
Existing political differences, fear of a pandemic and memories of the Russian intervention in 2016 may contribute to foreign or domestic disinformation, which, according to former officials and cyber security experts, causes more disruption than some cyber attacks.
I think there is no doubt that a much greater threat to the security of our elections and our shared democracy stems from misinformation, said Glenn Gurstell, former General Counsel of the National Security Agency. Intruders do not have to prove that they have changed the total number of votes if they only say that they have changed the total number of votes.
The Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Ministry of National Security, is intensifying information exchange with government officials and plans to hold regular briefings with journalists on election day to separate the real threats from the false ones. The Rumor Control page of their website is designed to verify the facts of certain types of known misinformation, such as the content indicating that a change in the vote count after Tuesday night is an indication that foreign attackers hacked into the elections.
We’re sure no foreign actor can change your voice, said agency head Christopher Krebs in a YouTube video last week. But that does not mean that the various actors will not try to destroy our elections and make sensational statements that exaggerate their capacities.
The key is to communicate these nuances to the voters before political campaigns or foreign governments begin, cyber security experts say.
US authorities and technology companies have reported several cases of cyber attacks and attempted Russian intervention in the run-up to the 2020 elections. WSJ investigates how Russian hackers and trolls have added new tactics to their 2016 toolbox.
At worst, something happens and nobody says anything, so [the bad actors] can walk away with it, says Markus Fowler, director of strategic threats at Darktrace Ltd, a cyber security company and former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.
ICAR informs government officials about hacking attempts, including by an Iranian actor who reportedly attacked election sites last month, said Trevor Timmons, Secretary of State of Colorado’s Director of Information. Timmons said his team also communicates with other government officials in a virtual situation room located at the Center for Analysis and Information Exchange of the Electoral Infrastructure, a consortium for sharing information.
Three disinformation commissioners helped Colorado local governments achieve the affirmed status of social media last month, Timmons said. If the rumours that the Covid-19 restrictions will lead to the closure of polling stations that
Last week, he said, his team gave clear signals that personal coordination would continue.
Opinions are nice. The facts are better, he said.
Federal, state and local governments are very alert to provide false information to discredit election results when key states need a few days to count the votes.
Jack Kurtz/Zuma Press
Timmons said his disinformation team was looking for openly associated media with Russia, China and Iran over the next few days, rather than misleading claims from domestic actors such as political campaigns or supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Social media platforms adapt to capture or limit the distribution of false and misleading content. Twitter reported on Monday that it could tweet candidate results and U.S. accounts of more than 100,000 supporters as premature if they were released before local officials or the national media call the election. In recent days, the platform has also been described as media tweets, manipulated by former Acting Director of the National Intelligence Agency Richard Greenele, in which he planned to show Democratic candidate Joe Biden without mask in the house during the pandemic, as well as a deceptively edited video showing Mr. Biden in the house during the pandemic. Biden was invited to speak at a recent rally for the wrong state.
Content that presents a postal vote as fraudulent will also be flagged as such and users will be warned if a candidate announces an early victory. The company, which stopped selling new political ads last week, had previously warned that foreign attackers exaggerated their ability to confuse people.
Such a break-in can be particularly effective given the political parties and the social differences that have arisen in the fiercely contested presidential race, said Congress spokesman Jim Langevin (D., R. I.), co-founder of the Cyber Security Caucus.
Attackers have an advantage if they can sow doubt and fear, he said.
Write to David Uberty at [email protected]
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