Breach Notification , Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime

Election Interference Notification Protocols Unveiled

White House Describes Framework for Notifying Public of 2020 Election Interference
Election Interference Notification Protocols Unveiled

The White House has developed protocols for notifying the public of nation-state hacking or other interference during the 2020 presidential election cycle, according to several news reports.

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Although the Trump administration provided an overview of the new framework to some reporters on Friday, it had not yet been officially posted to the White House website as of Monday.

The framework describes what the government will consider when it determines if it should notify the public of an attack, according to a report in The Hill. Among the parameters included in the document are that partisan politics will not be considered when releasing a notification and that that the Secret Service will be made aware anytime a major presidential campaign is targeted, The Hill reports.

The framework notes that decisions about whether to provide notification "will take into account the need to protect sensitive sources and methods necessary to protect national security and to avoid interfering in investigations,” according to the Hill.

“Notification decisions will consider whether providing notification will help deter foreign influence and protect the public, and will avoid amplifying foreign interference activity or re-victimizing the targets of such activity,” the document reads, the Hill reports.

Under the plan, the director of national intelligence would meet with several other officials to decide if they would issue a notification to the public. When a member of the intelligence community seeks to expand a notification beyond what is required by law, representatives from the FBI, CIA and other agencies would be brought in to craft the notice, according to the Hill.

An administration official told the Associated Press that any public notification of election interference would need to be weighed against releasing sensitive intelligence as well as spreading disinformation.

2020 Election Concerns

The announcement of this framework comes at a time when the Trump administration is facing criticism about how prepared the country is for ensuring the security of the 2020 presidential elections, especially after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller warned in testimony before a House committee in July that Russia was already planning to interfere in the upcoming election (see: Mueller: Russian Interference 'Serious' Threat to Democracy).

In October, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume of its report on Russian interference during the 2016 election, noting that China, North Korea and Iran are also preparing to interfere and spread disinformation in the run-up to the vote next November.

Meanwhile, a group of 22 state attorneys general, mainly from Democratic-leaning states, recently demanded that Congress offer local officials more support - including grants and equipment standards - to improve election infrastructure security in the run-up to the 2020 presidential contest (see: 22 State Attorneys General Seek Election Security Help).

But Congress has yet to pass legislation aimed at helping stop election interference.

In October, the House passed the third in a series of bills aimed at curbing attacks targeting the 2020 election. Like the previous two bills, however, the legislation, called the Strengthening Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act, is unlikely to pass in the Senate, The Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the bill wouldn't stop election interference and would harm the free speech rights of American citizens, according to the Hill.

Framework Release Applauded

One Democratic House member applauded the release of the Trump administration's election framework.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., has been pushing for new federal laws that require federal officials to alert local and state election officials, as well as the public, if there is an attack or breach on the election infrastructure. She says the Trump administration has taken a move in the right direction.

"I'm pleased the Trump administration has finally recognized how important public notification is to the integrity and credibility of our elections and established a framework for when and how notification should occur," Murphy says.

Murphy's comments come as officials in her home state of Florida, along with their federal counterparts, continue to investigate what happened during the 2016 election, when Russian agents targeted local voting records and infrastructure in the Sunshine State.

When the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its first report in Russian interference in 2016, it noted that Russia-backed hackers attempted to target all 50 states in the run-up to that election. While the report lacked specific details in every state, investigators noted that Russian hackers sent spear-phishing emails to numerous Florida county officials who were responsible for the 2016 election.

In at least one Florida county, the Senate report notes, Russian hackers were able to access the network that supported the election infrastructure. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Russian hackers actually penetrated the IT network of a second county as well.

Since that time, officials in Florida and the federal government have tried to strengthen the state's IT infrastructure, but the public has been left largely in the dark about what counties the hackers targeted, according to a recent report by CBS Miami.

About the Author

Scott Ferguson

Scott Ferguson

Former Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity, ISMG

Ferguson was the managing editor for the media website at Information Security Media Group. Before joining ISMG, he was editor-in-chief at eWEEK and director of audience development for InformationWeek. He's also written and edited for Light Reading, Security Now, Enterprise Cloud News, TU-Automotive, Dice Insights and

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