Is the U.S. Prepared for Foreign Interference of 2020 Elections

The Democrats continue to declare the Russians helped Donald Trump win the presidency and that now President Trump has done nothing to prevent Russian interference of the 2020 elections.

DHS is worried about our elections, and it's asking ...

But we need to look at some real facts.

  1. DHS launched several programs to aid the U.S. security of the nation’s elections systems. Beginning in 2017, a National Infrastructure Protection Plan was launched which began the real partnership with Federal, State and local governments including private sector entities. The sharing of timely and actionable threats, cybersecurity assistance including sensors all at no charge to election officials. Scanning, risk assessment and analysis along with training are all part of the Protection Plan, including conference calls scheduled as needed. What is most interesting is this program was initiated by a Presidential Policy Directive #21 signed by then President Obama in 2013.
  2. As ODNI Dan Coats has tendered his resignation effective in mid-August, many have said he has no accomplishment. This agency is merely an intelligence coordinator of many agencies and is bureaucratic but Coats did create a position that is dedicated to election security efforts and is headed by Shelby Pierson who has a deep resume in intelligence and was a crisis manager for election security in the 2018 elections. He has briefed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee several times so for any Democrat to declare that the Trump administration has done nothing is false.
  3. DHS has a resource library including a checklist that is available for free for any election officials that can be accessed as new threats or conditions arise. This library includes HTTPS encryption techniques, incident response, ransomware best practices and securing voter registration data. Additionally, email authentication techniques are available, layering credentialed access logins, security baselines, monitoring intrusions and brute force attack attempts are shared with all participating partners.

All of these efforts are positive steps against foreign interference, however fake news and rogue actors are crafty, resourceful and well financed. The United States is not the only country that is a victim of foreign intrusions.

Foreign spy services that are utilizing information operations in order to influence US elections reportedly include —aside from Russia— Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and China.

The majority of foreign information operations take place on social-media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But there are also campaigns to influence more traditional American media, for instance by tricking newspapers into publishing letters to the editor that are in fact authored by foreign intelligence operatives. Analysts from FireEye, Graphika and other cybersecurity and network-analysis firms told The Postthat some information operations are difficult to detect, because the presence of a state security service is not always apparent. However, the messages that are communicated in tweets, Facebook postings, online videos, etc., tend to echo —often word for word— the rhetoric of foreign governments, and promote their geopolitical objectives. As can be expected, these objectives vary. Thus, Russian, Israeli and Saudi information operations tend to express strong political support for US President Donald Trump, arguably because these governments see his potential re-election as a development that would further their national interest. In contrast, Iranian information operations tend to lambast Trump for his negative stance on the Iranian nuclear deal and for his support for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the Yemeni Civil War.

Stanley McChrystal has called for a nonpartisan, non-governmental Fair Digital Election Commission to protect the integrity of our elections by detecting, exposing, evaluating and remediating the impact of disinformation. Well we already have one where non-government cyber experts are collaborating with government officials and issuing attributions to the cyber actors as well as recommendations.

Fake news and false news influence voter’s attitudes. So one must ask where in Silicon Valley and the tech giants? We already know that Instagram, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter are censoring so voters must be diligent in research and cautious themselves regarding the spread of fake news and validating stories beyond just reading the headlines.

Last year, 2018:

A new study by three MIT scholars has found that false news spreads more rapidly on the social network Twitter than real news does — and by a substantial margin.

“We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.

“These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem,” says Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), who is also a co-author of the study. Roy adds that the researchers were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.

Moreover, the scholars found, the spread of false information is essentially not due to bots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories. Instead, false news speeds faster around Twitter due to people retweeting inaccurate news items.

“When we removed all of the bots in our dataset, [the] differences between the spread of false and true news stood,”says Soroush Vosoughi, a co-author of the new paper and a postdoc at LSM whose PhD research helped give rise to the current study.

The study provides a variety of ways of quantifying this phenomenon: For instance,  false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are. It also takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people. When it comes to Twitter’s “cascades,” or unbroken retweet chains, falsehoods reach a cascade depth of 10 about 20 times faster than facts. And falsehoods are retweeted by unique users more broadly than true statements at every depth of cascade.

The paper, “The Spread of True and False News Online,” is published today in Science.



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Denise Simon