Shane Huntley has seen every form of state-sponsored cyberattack, first as an Australian intelligence officer and now as director of Google’s most advanced team of threat detectors. So when he was asked what surprised him the most about the 2018 midterm elections, his response was a bit counterintuitive. “The answer is surprisingly little on the hacking front, at least compared to two years ago.” He paused, and added: “And that reassures some people, and it scares some people.” He is right. From the cyberwar room that the Department of Homeland Security runs round the clock in a bland office building in Arlington, Va., to Microsoft’s threat-assessment center at the other end of the country, in Redmond, Wash., every form of digital radar is being focused on Russia, especially its military-intelligence unit, formerly known as the G.R.U.
The National Security Agency, which failed to respond when Russian hackers were first seen inside the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems in the summer of 2015, has now taken to sending messages directly to Russian hackers, reminding them that they are being watched.
And still, the nervousness in all those places is palpable ahead of Tuesday’s election. While some say they believe President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is sitting out this election — the scrutiny is intense, the argument goes, and 470 House and Senate races make it just too hard for the Russians to figure out their interests, much less manipulate the outcome.
Still, others find the quiet deeply disturbing, perhaps a sign of a plan to make a last-minute effort to convince voters that their ballots might not be counted, or counted correctly.