Uncle Sam wants to make it clear that America's elections are very, very safe
From whom, exactly, we wonder
As America gears up for a contentious presidential election this year, the Department of Justice has launched a campaign to convince the public that each and every qualified vote will be counted, and there won't be any interference or shenanigans to worry about.
For this publicity drive, kicking off Tuesday, the department wanted to highlight the work done by its Civil Rights Division, which seeks to stamp out voter intimidation along with election practices that discriminate against people based on race, language, physical disability, or their inability to read or write.
Then there's the dept's Criminal Division and the US Attorneys' offices that enforce federal laws that criminalize election fraud and prohibit crimes including destruction of ballots, vote-buying, multiple voting, alteration of votes, and malfeasance by postal or election officials and employees.
This division also enforces laws that prohibit threats of violence against election workers as well as voter intimidation or suppression efforts.
And third, there's the National Security Division (NSD), which prosecutes any cases involving foreign influence or interference with elections, as well as violent extremist threats. Specifically, we're told, NSD oversees:
- matters involving a range of malign influence activities that foreign governments may attempt
- matters involving covert information operations (for example, social media disinformation campaigns); covert efforts to support or denigrate political candidates or organizations; and other covert influence operations
- cyber-enabled matters including those that involve social media or other online services, as well as hacking attempts against election or campaign infrastructure
- matters involving any acts of terrorism including violent extremism.
"As in past elections, the National Security Division will work closely with counterparts at the FBI and our US Attorneys' offices to protect our nation's elections from any national security threats," according to the Justice Department, which also urges anyone with complaints related to violence, threats, or intimidation at polling places to call 911.
The security push comes as America faces a bunch of threats, domestic and foreign, that may undermine citizens' confidence in elections. As we've seen previously, miscreants don't have to actually change any vote to succeed: they can instead sow enough seeds of doubt, pessimism, and division in the electorate to potentially influence the outcome of a poll. Hence the DoJ's efforts to strengthen people's trust in the system, we guess.
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Attacks don't even have to be politically driven. In October the US Capital's election agency warned a ransomware crew may have stolen its entire voter roll, which includes the personal information of all registered voters in the District of Columbia.
In addition to the threat of ransomware, it's also widely assumed that Russia will continue ongoing trolling and fake news efforts, along with an assist from Iran and possibly China, which has been working on its political deepfakes of late.
Also on Tuesday, security shop Arctic Wolf published data from a survey it commissioned in which the Center for Digital Government asked about 130 state and local government leaders in the United States, including those responsible for IT and cybersecurity systems, about their thoughts on election cybersecurity readiness.
To be clear: the sample size is very small. But the findings are interesting nonetheless. Almost half (41.7 percent) of respondents, we're told, said they anticipate cyber-incidents in their jurisdiction will increase in 2024, compared to the 2020 elections, while 34.6 percent said they expected incident numbers to remain the same.
When asked if their teams' budgets were adequate to address cybersecurity concerns, 8.8 percent said yes, fully adequate, while 44.9 percent described it as "mostly adequate." The others described their budgets as either "somewhat" (27.2 percent) or "very" (8.8 percent) inadequate, and 10.3 percent didn't know.
The top three concerns that these government officials have when it comes to cyber interference in elections are: disinformation campaigns (50.7 percent), phishing attacks targeting election officials (47.1 percent), and hacking attempts (45.6 percent).
Interestingly, the biggest nation-state concern among those surveyed is China (30.1 percent) followed by the US (19.9 percent). Russia came in third, with 19.1 percent listing Moscow as the biggest concern in terms of election interference. ®