Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Fraud Risk Management

US Intelligence Warns of Foreign Election Interference

Report Describes Threats From Russia, China and Iran
US Intelligence Warns of Foreign Election Interference
William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, published a new report.

With less than 100 days to go before the U.S. election, U.S. intelligence officials are warning of attempted interference by Russia, China and Iran, according to an update from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, published a report Friday that warns nation-states are still attempting to interfere in November's elections through a combination of disinformation and fake news.

"Foreign nations continue to use influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process," Evanina notes. "The coronavirus pandemic and recent protests, for instance, continue to serve as fodder for foreign influence and disinformation efforts in America."

Evanina notes that while Russia, China and Iran are attempting to interfere, other nation-states eventually could attempt to harm the election process and the U.S. voting infrastructure as well.

While Evanina's report notes that his office and other intelligence officials have briefed Congressional leaders on election interference security issues, Democrats and Republicans disagree about the severity of the threats to the November election.

Threats Ahead of November

In the report, Evanina writes that Russia, China and Iran each have their own goals related to the 2020 election.

China has been trying to increase its influence in the U.S. to shape the "policy environment" that the country views as running counter to its global interests, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have focused their efforts on weakening and undermining American institutions, including elections. Russia has been using internet trolls and proxies to spread disinformation, while Iran has been re-circulating anti-U.S. content across social media to create a divide in the country ahead of the elections, Evanina notes.

In April, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that concluded Russia and its intelligence services conducted an unprecedented, multifaceted campaign to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that the country is likely to try again in November (see: Senate Report Affirms Russian Election Interference Findings).

Google's Threat Analysis Group published an investigation in June that found a hacking group linked to the Chinese government attempted to phish presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign staff, while an Iranian-backed hacking group targeted President Donald Trump's re-election offices (see: Google: Phishing Attacks Targeted Trump, Biden Campaigns).

"We see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets," Evanina notes.

Election Infrastructure

In addition to disinformation campaigns and fake news, Evanina notes that foreign actors have focused on attacking the U.S. voting infrastructure. The report notes that intelligence agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence continue to monitor for malicious activity at both the state and federal level.

Each state’s diverse election system, combined with redundancies, such as paper ballots, make it difficult for hackers to change election results, Evanina notes.

"The diversity of election systems among the states, multiple checks and redundancies in those systems, and post-election auditing all make it extraordinarily difficult for foreign adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies without detection," Evanina writes.

At a virtual event earlier this month, Christopher Krebs, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, struck a similar tone, noting that increased use of paper ballots is one way to improve security for the November elections.

Political Fallout

After Evanina released the statement, Democrats and Republicans disagreed about the severity of the threat to the November elections.

On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats released a joint statement that accused Evanina of not going far enough to describe what type of election interference the U.S. public is facing.

"The statement just released by NCSC Director William Evanina does not go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process," the letter states.

That letter prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is chair of the Intelligence Committee, to defend Evanina's statement.

"The intelligence community, law enforcement, election officials and others involved in securing our elections are far better postured, and Congress dramatically better informed, than any of us were in 2016 - and our Democrat colleagues know it," McConnell and Rubio said.

Earlier this month, Pelosi, Schumer and other Democrats sent a letter to the FBI requesting a classified briefing about election interference and threats (see: Democrats Request FBI Briefing on Election Interference).

About the Author

Chinmay Rautmare

Chinmay Rautmare

Senior Correspondent

Rautmare is senior correspondent on Information Security Media Group's Global News Desk. He previously worked with Reuters News, as a correspondent for the North America Headline News operations and reported on companies in the technology, media and telecom sectors. Before Reuters he put in a stint in broadcast journalism with a business channel, where he helped produced multimedia content and daily market shows. Rautmare is a keen follower of geo-political news and defense technology in his free time.

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