The task force the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command created last year to thwart Russian influence and cyberattacks on the U.S. is now permanent, spokespeople from both agencies confirmed to CyberScoop. The “Russia Small Group” — whose existence NSA Director Paul Nakasone announced in July of last year, absent guidance from the White House on how to handle Russian cyberthreats — settles in as the White House, Congress and the Pentagon have taken steps to clarify how and when the military should conduct offensive operations in cyberspace. The NSA would not comment on the number of people on the task force, where it is based, or when the operation became permanent. One intelligence official told CyberScoop the group’s new permanent designation, under routine operations, likely marks a surge of incoming resources, just as in any military surge. “We intend to build on this foundation as we prepare with our interagency partners for a broader challenge in the upcoming 2020 election cycle,” a Cyber Command spokesperson told CyberScoop. The New York Times first reported that the task force had become permanent.
National: F.B.I. Warns of Russian Interference in 2020 Race and Boosts Counterintelligence Operations | The New York Times
The F.B.I. director warned anew on Friday about Russia’s continued meddling in American elections, calling it a “significant counterintelligence threat.” The bureau has shifted additional agents and analysts to shore up defenses against foreign interference, according to a senior F.B.I. official. The Trump administration has come to see that Russia’s influence operations have morphed into…
National: FBI chief: Russia upping meddling efforts ahead of 2020, midterms a ‘dress rehearsal’ | The Hill
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Friday that the 2018 midterm elections served as a “dress rehearsal” for Russia’s election interference efforts slated to be aimed at the 2020 presidential election. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, the FBI director said that Russian operatives and other foreign agents are “adapting” to the efforts the U.S. intelligence community is taking to secure America’s election systems. “Well, I think — on the one hand I think enormous strides have been made since 2016 by all the different federal agencies, state and local election officials, the social media companies, etc.,” Wray said. “But I think we recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game. And so we’re very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020,” he added. One area Wray pointed to where the FBI has seen improvement is in cooperation with social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook, where Russian election meddling was centered in 2016.
National: As security officials prepare for Russian attack on 2020 presidential race, Trump and aides play down threat | The Washington Post
In recent months, U.S. national security officials have been preparing for Russian interference in the 2020 presidential race by tracking cyber threats, sharing intelligence about foreign disinformation efforts with social media companies and helping state election officials protect their systems against foreign manipulation. But these actions are strikingly at odds with statements from President Trump, who has rebuffed warnings from his senior aides about Russia and sought to play down that country’s potential to influence American politics. The president’s rhetoric 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. Officials insist that they have made progress since 2016 in hardening defenses. And top security officials, including the director of national intelligence, say the president has given them “full support” in their efforts to counter malign activities. But some analysts worry that by not sending a clear, public signal that he understands the threat foreign interference poses, Trump is inviting more of it. In the past week, Justice Department prosecutors indicated that Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election are part of a long-term strategy that the United States continues to confront.
Brandishing a copy of the Mueller Report, Sen. Bob Menendez emphasized its findings about election security during the last presidential campaign and election and proposed spending $2.5 billion over 10 years to make the system more resilient. “The Russian government carried out a sweeping and systematic attack on the 2016 election and the Trump campaign actively welcomed it. Second, the president repeatedly tried to undermine and obstruct the special counsel’s investigation into that interference,” Menendez said. Menendez argued that the obstruction continues. This weekend, in fact, President Donald Trump continued to assail the Mueller Report as a political hoax. “The radical, liberal Democrats put all their hopes behind their ‘collusion delusion’, which has now been totally exposed to the world as a complete and total fraud,” Trump said on April 27 in Wisconsin. Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney warned White House officials not to mention Russian election activity to the president, The New York Times reported, because Trump believes it delegitimizes his election victory. But Menendez says the U.S. election system remains vulnerable to future attacks — noting that Mueller’s report underscored previous intel that Russians hacked 21 state elections systems, not including New Jersey’s and installed malware at a voting technology company’s computer network. Sen. Marco Rubio told The New York Times that Russian hackers could have tampered with rolls of registered voters in one Florida county. The FBI fully expects renewed cyberattacks.
U.S. Cyber Command is shifting the way it measures success from solely military outcomes to how the command enables other government agencies to defend against foreign offensive cyber threats. Brig. Gen. Timothy Haugh, who is in charge of Cyber Command’s Cyber National Mission Force, said on Tuesday at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council that success is “not necessarily [about] the department’s outcome,” but is instead about “how can we enable our international partners [and] our domestic partners in industry to be able to defend those things that are critical to our nation’s success.” Haugh said Cyber Command is doing its job right if agencies are taking their own actions: State Department issuing démarches, Department of Homeland Security releasing alerts, and Treasury Department announcing sanctions “based off of information that is derived from our operations.” In the past, Haugh said he believes that these outcomes may not have been considered as wins. This shift in benchmarking comes amid newfound leeway at the Department of Defense to launch offensive cyber measures. Last year, President Donald Trump issued a revamp to the White House’s offensive cyber policy, which federal Chief Information Security Officer Grant Schneider last week deemed an “operational success.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham on Sunday pushed back against White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s recent downplaying of Russian interference in the 2016 election, calling Moscow’s actions a “big deal” deserving of new sanctions immediately. Still, the South Carolina Republican insisted President Trump had done nothing wrong, citing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s refusal to charge Trump with either conspiracy or obstruction of justice in the Russia probe. “I think the idea that this president obstructed justice is absurd,” Graham, a fierce Trump ally, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “I can’t think of one thing that President Trump did to stop Mueller from doing his job. . . . I’ve heard all I need to really know.” During the interview, however, Graham challenged the assertion by Trump’s son-in-law in a Time magazine interview on Tuesday that Russia’s bid to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor amounted to a “couple of Facebook ads” — and that Mueller’s investigation was more damaging to the country than the Russian effort.
National: Election tech vendors say they’re securing their systems. Does anyone believe them? | CyberScoop
The last few years have been an awakening for Election Systems & Software. Before 2016, very few people were publicly pressing the company to change the way it handled its cybersecurity practices. Now, the nation’s leading manufacturer of election technology has become a lightning rod for critics. Security experts say the small number of companies that dominate the nation’s election technology market, including ES&S, have failed to acknowledge and remedy vulnerabilities that lie in systems used to hold elections across the country. Once left to obscurity, the entire ecosystem has been called into question since the Russian government was found to have interfered with the 2016 presidential campaign. While there has never been any evidence to suggest that any voting machines were compromised, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI recently issued a memo that all 50 states were at least targeted by Russian intelligence. The peak of the criticism came after the Voting Village exhibition at the 2018 DEF CON security conference, where amateur hackers unearthed a bevy of flaws in the company’s tech. In a number of publications — including CyberScoop — ES&S disputed the notion that it didn’t take cybersecurity seriously, arguing its own due diligence was enough to satisfy any security worries. It didn’t help the Omaha, Nebraska-based company’s case when the Voting Village committee issued a report in September that found decades-old vulnerabilities in an ES&S ballot tabulator that has been used in elections in more than half of the states. In light of these issues, some of the election tech manufacturers are trying to change course, and ES&S is the most public about its efforts. With the country gearing up for the 2020 presidential election, the company has revamped its security testing procedures, putting together a plan to let penetration testers from both the public and private sector evaluate the safety of its systems. Furthermore, ES&S and its competitors are communicating in an unprecedented way about committing to a certain level of standards that can lift the entire industry to a better security baseline.
The Department of Homeland Security is offering to help test and improve the cybersecurity of Democratic presidential campaigns — and this time, these services are getting a lot of interest. “We haven’t had anyone decline to have a call with us or not be excited about the resources we’re offering or the support or services,” DHS senior adviser on election security Matt Masterson said of offers to the crowded field of 2020 candidates, during a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council’s International Conference on Cyber Engagement. That’s a far better reception than ahead of the 2018 midterms, when state election officials broadly rejected DHS’s offer to help with their cybersecurity early in the Trump administration. Despite the Russian hacking and influence operation that upended the presidential election, state officials were concerned DHS aid could lead to a federal takeover of election administration and were angered by the department’s slow pace sharing information about Russia’s 2016 hacking attempts. It was well into 2017 before some states changed their tune and began working with DHS on girding their election systems against hacking from Russia and elsewhere in the midterm elections. Now, the acceptance of free help from DHS is a sign the campaigns and states are getting on the same page as the federal government about the need for security to protect both voter information and the integrity of the vote.
Foreign powers and domestic disruptors are already interfering in next year’s presidential and congressional elections and this week we learned what the likely response of the Trump re-election campaign will be: bring it on. Two prominent Trump associates — Rudy Giuliani and Jared Kushner — both dismissed the impact of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, essentially telling those currently seeking to sow disinformation, “Come on in, fellas, no big deal.” What Special Counsel Robert Mueller characterized in his findings as a “sweeping and systematic” effort by the Russian government to interfere, and help elect Trump, was “a couple Facebook ads,” Kushner said Tuesday, adding that the investigation itself — into a foreign attack on this nation’s electoral process — had done more damage to democracy. To Rudy, “there’s nothing wrong” with accepting help from a hostile foreign power. Some characterized Kushner’s comments as unpatriotic, even treasonous. What they were, at best, was irresponsible. They were also false. According to the Mueller Report, by Election Day the Russian government was spending more than $1 million per month on its campaign and, by Facebook’s account, reaching one-third of the U.S. population. The very hour that Kushner spoke at the Time 100 Summit, NBC was reporting that Twitter had removed 5,000 accounts of bots attacking the Mueller investigation as the “Russiagate hoax.” They weren’t Russian bots but ones connected to a pro-Saudi social media operation that formerly went under the name Arabian Veritas, which had claimed to be “an initiative that aims to spread the truth about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East through social engagement.”
National: Cybersecurity proposal pits cyber pros against campaign finance hawks | The Washington Post
The Federal Election Commission could decide today whether nonpartisan groups can offer political campaigns free cybersecurity services, an issue that has made bedfellows of Republicans and Democrats but divided cyber pros and campaign finance hawks. The proposal’s authors, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager Robby Mook and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager Matt Rhoades, come to the issue from bitter experience. The Romney campaign was targeted by Chinese hackers, and Clinton’s campaign was upended by a Russian hacking and disinformation operation aimed at helping Donald Trump. The bipartisan duo want to help presidential and congressional campaigns steer clear of similar hacking operations by allowing nonprofits to provide cybersecurity free of charge. But first they need the FEC to say those services don’t amount to an illegal campaign contribution. “This is warfare,” Mook told FEC commissioners during a review of the proposal April 11. “People are trying to disrupt our democracy.” The plan is a hit with many cybersecurity pros who say campaigns aren’t equipped to defend themselves against sophisticated, government-backed hacking operations from Russia and China, and think this might level the playing field.
As the nation heads into the 2020 election cycle, experts disagree over whether the nation should expect the same type of cyber threats and influence campaigns experienced in 2016 or if we should expect the unexpected. Matthew Masterson, a senior advisor at the Department of Homeland Security focusing on election security, said that he spends “a lot of time thinking through that undermining confidence [angle] and ways that we can build that resilience.” Speaking at an April 23 cybersecurity conference, he told the audience that “the reality is you don’t actually even have to touch a system to push a narrative that undermines confidence in the elections process.” Liisa Past, former chief research officer at the Cyber Security Branch of the Estonian Information System Authority, said at the same event that election influence campaigns operate on multiple fronts. “It really illustrates the adversarial activity, which is that they’re throwing spaghetti at the walls,” said Past. “Cyber is one wall, misinformation, disinformation and social media is another wall. We’re having to assume that using proxies and … useful idiots is another wall, and I’m afraid that behind it there might also be an element of blackmail and personal manipulation.” The challenge, she said, is “how do you come up with a risk management model that clearly has the same degree of flexibility as the adversary’s tactics have?”
National: In Push for 2020 Election Security, Top Official Was Warned: Don’t Tell Trump | The New York Times
In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president. Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids. But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.” Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections. As a result, the issue did not gain the urgency or widespread attention that a president can command. And it meant that many Americans remain unaware of the latest versions of Russian interference.
National: ‘They think they are above the law’: the firms that own America’s voting system | The Guardian
Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin is a newcomer to the cause of reforming America’s vote-counting machines, welcomed through baptism by fire. In 2015, Maryland’s main election system vendor was bought by a parent company with ties to a Russian oligarch. The state’s election officials did not know about the purchase until July 2018, when the FBI notified them of the potential conflict. The FBI investigated and did not find any evidence of tampering or sharing of voter data. But the incident was a giant red flag as to the potential vulnerabilities of American democracy – especially as many states have outsourced vote-counting to the private sector. After all, the purchase happened while Russian agents were mounting multiple disinformation and cybersecurity campaigns to interfere with America’s 2016 general election. “To say that they don’t have any evidence of any wrongdoing is not to say that nothing untoward happened,” Raskin said. “It’s simply to say that we don’t have the evidence of it.” The fact is that democracy in the United States is now largely a secretive and privately-run affair conducted out of the public eye with little oversight. The corporations that run every aspect of American elections, from voter registration to casting and counting votes by machine, are subject to limited state and federal regulation. The companies are privately-owned and closely held, making information about ownership and financial stability difficult to obtain. The software source code and hardware design of their systems are kept as trade secrets and therefore difficult to study or investigate.
National: Election security offers leading edge in CISA’s funding push as budget hearings approach | InsideCyberSecurity
Leaders of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency argue that ensuring the security of the 2020 election will require increased funds for the new agency, and are citing the recent Mueller report as new evidence of CISA’s critical role in countering Russian interference. The Mueller report released last week, and renewed CISA assertions about election security, come as House lawmakers kick off review of the DHS budget for fiscal 2020 next week. CISA Director Christopher Krebs said the redacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference reinforces ongoing concerns about election security, while he emphasized that CISA will continue asking for more funding in this area. “When I look at the Mueller report, I think it’s an extension of prior law enforcement intelligence activity, it was pretty consistent with the intelligence community assessment,” Krebs said to Inside Cybersecurity following his speech at the AFCEA meeting of government and largely defense industry officials today. “It’s just a reinforcement that they were incredibly active in 2016, they were active in 2018, and we’re going to be ready for them in 2020,” Krebs said.
The Russian military intelligence unit known by its initials GRU targeted U.S. state election offices as well as U.S. makers of voting machines, according to Mueller’s report. Victims of the Russian hacking operation “included U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections (SBOEs), secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities,” the report said. “The GRU also targeted private technology firms responsible for manufacturing and administering election-related software and hardware, such as voter registration software and electronic polling stations.” The Russian intelligence officers at GRU exploited known vulnerabilities on websites of state and local election offices by injecting malicious SQL code on such websites that then ran commands on underlying databases to extract information. Using those techniques in June 2016, “the GRU compromised the computer network of the Illinois State Board of Elections by exploiting a vulnerability in the SBOE’s website,” the report said. “The GRU then gained access to a database containing information on millions of registered Illinois voters, and extracted data related to thousands of U.S. voters before the malicious activity was identified.”
National: Jared Kushner Dismisses Russian Election Interference as ‘Couple of Facebook Ads’ | The New York Times
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, dismissed Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign on Tuesday as a “couple of Facebook ads” and said the investigation of it was far more damaging to the country than the intrusion itself. “You look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it — and it’s a terrible thing,” Mr. Kushner said during a panel sponsored by Time magazine. “But I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.” “Quite frankly, the whole thing is just a big distraction for the country,” Mr. Kushner said in his first public comments since the release of the report of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, last week. Facebook estimated that Russia-backed ads and social media posts reached 126 million Americans during the election, only about 10 million fewer than voted in 2016. Moreover, Russians hacked accounts of the Democratic National Committee and leaked damaging information about Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, at critical moments during the campaign. In his report, Mr. Mueller concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
National: Russia’s hack into the US election was surprisingly inexpensive, Mueller report shows | CNBC
Techniques used by state-backed Russian hackers to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections were apparently inexpensive, experts told CNBC, highlighting the ease at which a foreign government was able to meddle in a Western democracy. The report released by special counsel Robert Mueller lays out how Russian trolls used social media to try to influence the outcome of the election in which Donald Trump was made president and outlines the way in which hackers stole documents from the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Beginning in March 2016, units of Russia’s military intelligence unit known as GRU hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees and volunteers supporting the Clinton presidential campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta, the Mueller report said. The Russian group also hacked the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Initially, the GRU employed a hacking technique known as spearphishing. That’s when a hacker sends an email to a person that contains something like a link to a fake website or an attachment. When a person clicks that link or downloads that document, it could lead to malicious software being installed on that person’s computer or mobile device. The spoof website might ask for personal details about a person, which could include passwords to certain services they use.
U.S. cybersecurity officials are gearing up to prevent foreign malign influence campaigns from impacting the 2020 vote. Experts are divided over whether local election officials and federal agencies should expect the same type of threats targeting election infrastructure and online discourse as they experienced in 2016 or if they should expect the unexpected. On Election Day in 2018, federal officials said they had no indication that voting infrastructure was successfully targeted by cyberattacks or other efforts at manipulation designed to strike voters from the rolls, change vote counts or hinder officials from completing election tallies. But the issue of influence campaigns and as yet unknown vectors of attack remain ripe for discussion as the nation heads into the 2020 vote. Matthew Masterson, a senior advisor at DHS who focuses on election security, said at an April 23 cybersecurity conference that he spends “a lot of time thinking through that undermining confidence [angle] and ways that we can build that resilience, because the reality is you don’t actually even have to touch a system to push a narrative that undermines confidence in the elections process.” Liisa Past, former Chief Research Officer at the Cyber Security Branch of the Estonian Information System Authority, said at the same event that election influence campaigns operate on multiple fronts.
By design, tens of millions of votes are cast across America on machines that cannot be audited, where the votes cannot be verified, and there is no meaningful paper trail to catch problems – such as a major error or a hack. For almost 17 years, states and counties around the country have conducted elections on machines that have been repeatedly shown to be vulnerable to hacking, errors, breakdowns, and that leave behind no proof that the votes counted actually match the votes that were cast. Now, in a climate of fear and suspicion over attacks to America’s voting system sparked by Russia’s attacks on the 2016 elections, states and counties across the country are working to replace these outdated machines with new ones. The goal is to make the 2020 elections secure. “There’s a lot of work to do before 2020 but I think there’s definitely opportunities to make sure that the reported outcomes are correct in 2020,” said Marian Schneider, president of the election integrity watchdog Verified Voting. “I think that people are focusing on it in a way that has never happened before. It’s thanks to the Russians.” The purchases replace machines from the turn of the century that raise serious security concerns. But the same companies that made and sold those machines are behind the new generation of technology, and a history of distrust between election security advocates and voting machine vendors has led to a bitter debate over the viability of the new voting equipment – leaving some campaigners wondering if America’s election system in 2020 might still be just as vulnerable to attack.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the “sweeping and systematic fashion” in which Russia interfered in the 2016 election highlights the breadth and complexity of the U.S. voting infrastructure that needs protecting. From voter registration to the vote itself to election night tabulation, there are countless computers and databases that offer avenues for foreign adversaries to try to create havoc and undermine trust in the democratic process. In addition to targeting the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign in 2016, Mueller noted in his report, Russian hackers also went after election technology firms and county officials who administer the vote — officials often without the resources to hire information technology staffs. [Through email leaks and propaganda, Russians sought to elect Trump, Mueller finds] “The Mueller report makes clear that there’s a much larger infrastructure that we have to protect,” said Lawrence Norden, an election security expert at New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s clearly a lot to do before 2020.”
National: Cyber aspects of Mueller report tread familiar ground on ’16 election hacks | InsideCyberSecurity
The redacted Mueller report on Russia and the 2016 elections contains politically contentious elements on collusion and obstruction of justice, but the aspects directly related to cybersecurity largely have been released and absorbed through earlier reports and indictments. The document released Thursday by the Justice Department is in a format that’s not searchable, but there are parts on cyber issues such as botnets, which is heavily redacted, and lengthy discussion of what Russian agents did to hack into computers associated with the presidential campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton. The basic cybersecurity issues involved have been known for some time and were reflected in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s election-security recommendations issued in March 2018. Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said Thursday that final reports from his committee’s Russia probe will begin coming out in a matter of “weeks.”
It is no news by now that the long-awaited Mueller Report has revealed extensive Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. While much attention has been focused on whether or not president Donald Trump was in any way complicit with these efforts, what is less reported is that the report showed that state-backed Russian operatives used bitcoin extensively in their attempts to impede Hilary Clinton and help Donald Trump’s campaign. According to the report, agents working on behalf of Russian military intelligence used bitcoin to do everything from purchasing VPNs to buying domains hosting political propaganda. This was part of a wide-reaching and apparently successful attempt to hack the 2016 election that saw Trump emerge victorious against all expectations. While this may not be news to anyone familiar with cryptocurrencies, the Russian agents apparently worked under the mistaken assumption that the mere fact of their transactions being carried out using cryptocurrency made them anonymous and untraceable. In fact, as has been demonstrated several times, bitcoin transactions are not that difficult to trace, given the presence of some key data.
Most Americans aren’t yet paying a lot of attention to the 2020 presidential campaign. The same can’t be said for Russian spies. Aides and advisers to the vast field of Democratic hopefuls are ringing alarm bells, telling their bosses they should assume that Moscow is laying the groundwork to disrupt, if not derail, their campaigns, just as Russian intelligence did to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. But interviews with the campaigns show cyber security is a secondary concern, with most of the campaigns contacted by TIME say they have not “finalized” their tech plan or hired a security chief. The biggest problem is money. Every campaign focuses vast amounts of effort raising money to compete on ground troops, ads and campaign offices in key locations. Spending precious cash on cyber tools, whose successful deployment results in a non-event, is hard to defend. “There’s nothing sexy about it,” says Mike Sager, the chief technology officer at EMILY’s List, a group that works to elect women who support abortion rights. But, he says, “the folks who have been through it, who know what happens when you don’t do this, get it.” Nobody disputes the threat. Russia’s larger goals remain the same as they were in 2016: making American democracy look bad. “It is about the legitimacy of democracy and about the trust people have in their democracy,” said Eric Rosenbach, a former Pentagon chief of staff who now heads Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy program. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of different ways in the information age that bad actors and nefarious nation-states can undermine that.”
While much of the U.S. was poring over the Mueller Report, the Democratic National Committee argued Thursday that its civil suit against President Donald Trump, the Russian Federation, WikiLeaks and members of the Trump campaign and White House should go forward. The DNC claims the defendants violated U.S. racketeering, computer fraud and other laws by conspiring to hack emails from DNC computers and leak them in advance of the 2016 election in a “brazen attack on American democracy.” The conspiracy sought to help Trump become president and continued into his presidency, according to the DNC. “After securing Trump’s grip on power, defendants worked tirelessly to keep it, lying to the American public, Congress, the Justice Department and the FBI to conceal any misconduct that jeopardized Trump’s presidency,” the DNC said in court papers filed late Thursday in Manhattan federal court.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report provided new details Thursday about how Russian agents hacked into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee computers in 2016, renewing the question of whether the two parties would agree not to use stolen material in future political attacks. Leaders of the DCCC and the National Republican Congressional Committee came close to such an an agreement in late 2018, but talks broke down. The two committees, which have new leaders for the 2020 cycle, have not restarted discussions. The DCCC is interested in re-engaging in talks, according to a source familiar with the committee’s thinking. The NRCC declined to comment. The group’s new chairman, Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, was more focused Thursday on attacking the politics of investigating President Donald Trump. “It is time for the emotional, socialist Democrats to knock it off with their childish temper tantrums, accept reality and get back to work,” he said in a statement. DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos could not be reached immediately for comment.
While the headlines about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report have focused on the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice, the report also gave fresh details about Russian efforts to hack into U.S. election systems. In particular, the report said, “We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled [Russian military intelligence] to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government” during the 2016 campaign. That came as news to Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections — which has been working closely with federal authorities to protect their election systems against such attacks. “I haven’t heard even a whisper” about such a breach, Lux told NPR, noting that the report referred to a county “government” office network, not specifically to an “elections” office, although the two are frequently connected. It’s unusual that such a breach would occur and Florida officials would not know about it. For the past two years, election officials around the country have been working with both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to share information about potential security threats. They have set up several national communications networks specifically for that purpose.
Twenty-eight members of the House Homeland Security Committee are urging appropriators to boost cyber funding at the Department of Homeland Security above what the White House has requested. In a letter sent to the House Appropriations Committee, the signatories — including Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) — asked for a raise in the spending cap for DHS cyber spending, saying years of flat funding levels at the department will not be enough to “properly resource” the newly established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and its mission. “We urge the committee to break from the status quo and increase the Homeland Security Subcommittee’s 302(b) allocation commensurate with the threat,” the members wrote. “It is imperative that [the allocation] enable CISA to mature and grow the services it provides to secure federal and critical infrastructure networks.” The letter cited increasing threats to federal data, election infrastructure, critical infrastructure sectors and “long-standing threats from nation-states, terrorists, transnational criminal organizations and other malicious actors” to justify an elevation in funding. Members highlighted how past funding increases have helped DHS and CISA expand their services to state and local governments to secure election and voting systems and incorporate additional federal agencies into cybersecurity programs like Einstein and Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation.
The air is undeniably tense surrounding the next United States presidential race. Not only does the Land of the Free currently have one of the most controversial commanders-in-chief in its history, but the issues at stake are being approached from more partisan, polarised angles than ever before. Whether it’s women’s rights, the tax plan, or guns and public health, you cannot deny the stiff atmosphere in politics today. There’s a topic that’s become a bigger issue than it was four years ago, however: data protection. Cybersecurity is already a hot topic in the media. Of course, data security was previously a concern to the people who knew a thing or two about it, but the public was largely focused on other issues. But now, cybersecurity has become a public cause of concern. With the emerging news in the last few years about Russia’s attempts to tamper with the 2016 election, the American people are skeptical like never before. This begs a few questions: What role is cybersecurity going to play in our upcoming presidential debates? How will it be discussed in the media? And how will the public come down on these important issues?
When Pentagon leaders tasked Air Force cyber teams with helping prevent Russian trolls from influencing the 2018 midterm elections, it marked the first time those forces were tasked with such a mission under new authorities. Department of Defense has openly discussed their success in keeping the midterm elections free from Russian interference, but officials have provided few details about which teams were tasked with doing so. During an April 11 event at Langley Air Force Base, Gen. James Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, said Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, the head of Air Forces Cyber, was ordered and given the authority to defeat Russian influence operations. “It’s the first time we’ve really had the authority to go operate and do that in the cyber environment,” Holmes said. Cyber authorities have typically been held at the highest levels of government making them difficult to be approved for rapid use, but over the last year the Trump administration has begun to loosen those restrictions in an attempt to make it easier for commanders to employ cyber tools faster and react more quickly to adversaries in a domain that is measured in milliseconds.