Dispatch (January 15th) from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Dispatch from the Alliance for Securing Democracy

Our Take

ASD’s David Salvo commented on espionage allegations levelled against American Paul Whelan, for ABC News. Salvo joined a number of intelligence experts in analyzing the veracity of Russia’s claims.

ASD’s Bret Schafer discussed Russian disinformation tactics in a New York Times report: “One of the things we’ve been talking about in the last year is how the real threat’s going to be when it’s not just Russia or Iran — nation-states with budgets — but when every single person with an issue starts engaging in this type of manipulative behavior…It’s absolutely awful for democracy.”

News and Commentary:

Israeli and German officials sound the alarm on foreign meddling in upcoming elections: In Germany, a 20 year old hacker accessed the private accounts and information of 994 prominent public figures, ranging from journalists and celebrities to current Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to the breach, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer called for the institution of “preventative measures” ahead of upcoming European Parliament elections in May, specifically advocating for the hiring of more staff for Germany’s federal cybersecurity agency (BSI) and the establishment of an early warning system to flag future cyberattacks. Similarly, Israeli intelligence officials suggest that a foreign country is actively targeting their upcoming April elections. Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency, revealed the ongoing interference during a closed-door speech given at Tel Aviv University. Government censors have prevented the alleged country from being identified, but Israeli media have pointed to Russian hackers. Allies of Prime Minister Netanyahu have pointed to traditional rivals Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran as culpable for the interference. (Reuters, Politico, The Jerusalem Post)

Poland urges NATO, allies, to coordinate on PRC cyber-security threat: On January 11, Polish authorities arrested and charged two telecommunications employees with spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). One of the men, a PRC national, works for PRC telecommunications conglomerate Huawei, which western officials have accused of assisting PRC intelligence abroad. On January 15, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei broke a years-long silence to dismiss accusations that the company assists with PRC espionage efforts. Following the arrest, Poland joined the United States in encouraging NATO allies to coordinate efforts to address security threats from the PRC. (The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal)

States continue to grapple with election security infrastructure: According to Politico, several U.S. states are working to strengthen election security ahead of the 2020 elections. In South Carolina, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are set to introduce a bill this week that would require the state to use paper ballots and risk-limiting audits for all statewide and local elections, while in Rhode Island election officials announced plans to test risk-limiting audits this week. Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is looking to hire a cybersecurity specialist to focus on “threats against the state’s voter registration database” and “coordinate with clerks and other officials across Idaho’s 44 counties.” Meanwhile, Georgia’s voting security commission endorsed replacing the state’s electronic voting system with a computerized system that prints paper ballots — despite opposition from voters and experts who argued that paper ballots filled out by hand are more secure. (Politico, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Statescoop)

In Other News:

– Techcrunch reveals that exploitation of a bug on Google can generate and spread misinformation.

The Wall Street Journal looked into a Russian hack of the U.S. electricity grid, and found “attacks on hundreds of small contractors.”

– A FireEye report suggests that Iranians are more likely to be responsible for the cyber hacks on government and communications infrastructure.

– Joshua Geltzer and Bryan Jones argue that the personal information of millions of Americans stolen in November’s Marriot hack may be used to bolster China’s increasingly oppressive domestic security measures, or may be saved for some yet-to-be developed intelligence tool.

– According to McClatchy News, Russian Internet Research Agency-linked propaganda site USA Really lost its security certificate.

– A Poynter survey reveals that at least 39 countries have taken action against online misinformation.

– A Pew poll of 26 countries found that “people in multiple countries think it is likely that government data, public infrastructure and elections will be targeted by future hacks,” and nearly half were confident their nation was well-prepared to handle a major cyber-attack.

– According to EU Observer, Italian populist rulers provide support to the French yellow vest movement.

The New York Times reported that although social media is off limits for its citizens, People’s Daily newspaper and the Xinhua news agency, which are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, utilize Twitter to influence international perceptions of its regime.

The Daily Beast viewed a U.S. intelligence report that details how the Kremlin likely authorized Deputy Governor of the Russian Central Bank Alexander Torshin and student Maria Butina to establish contact with the National Rifle Association as part of an effort to infiltrate U.S. conservative organizations. The reported authorization came as an opening salvo to Russia’s influence campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections.

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