Our Take

To combat corruption and kleptocracy, the Biden administration should push for a landmark international agreement to end offshore financial secrecy everywhere, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph said on “The Power Vertical.”

Artificial intelligence has played a role in magnifying the scale and effectiveness of authoritarians’ information manipulation operations during the coronavirus pandemic, Program Manager and Fellow Nad’a Kovalčíková said in an interview with the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights

China’s decision to ban BBC from airing in the country comes after weeks of particularly harsh criticism of the outlet by the Chinese propaganda network monitored on Hamilton 2.0, Research Assistant Etienne Soula explained on Twitter

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Last week, Russian state media coverage of former president Trump’s second impeachment trial was largely factual, if at times sensationalized, and highlighted controversial takes by U.S. domestic actors. Russian state media and diplomats also continued to emphasize various instances of alleged censorship by social media companies, including the temporary suspension of a Russian diplomatic Twitter account. Finally, Russian diplomats and state media emphasized EU receptiveness to the Sputnik V vaccine, highlighted controversies and potential side-effects associated with Western vaccines, and criticized Ukraine for banning Russian vaccines.

Last Thursday, the Chinese government banned the BBC from broadcasting in the country, capping weeks of increasing hostility toward the British broadcaster (see ASD’s tweet thread on the announcement). Meanwhile, Chinese state-backed media made a concerted effort to push back against the BBC’s coverage of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Chinese state media also accused WHO officials of bias and circulated conspiracies about the United States following reporting that called into question the level of access China granted WHO experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus.

On the Iranian dashboard, the supreme leader continued to use his various accounts to tweet about the imminent decline of the United States, with a special emphasis on celebrating the end of Trump’s presidency. In some cases, Iranian castigations were explicitly tied to U.S. and European demands that Iran return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) before receiving sanctions relief.

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News and Commentary

U.S. election agency updates voting security standards: On February 10, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) approved the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0, the first updates to election security and accessibility recommendations for state and voting machine vendors since 2005. The new guidelines take steps to strengthen cybersecurity standards, codify the need for vote-auditing technology, and make voting more accessible to disabled voters. Most states and voting equipment vendors defer to the voluntary EAC standards when designing, testing, and certifying equipment. Cybersecurity and voting integrity experts, however, have raised concern that the new guidelines leave voting systems vulnerable to potential cyberattacks by permitting the use of wireless modems and chips. In a letter to the EAC, a bipartisan coalition of more than 20 members of Congress argued that the new standards permit a level of Internet connectivity that could allow “hackers access to the voting system software” and called for the EAC to reconsider its guidelines. ASD Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine wrote that while the new EAC guidelines strengthen election security, the process of developing new standards can be improved to ensure the next update occurs more smoothly and quickly.

French cybersecurity agency identifies hacking campaign linked to Russia: On February 15, the French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) announced it had discovered a years-long cyber intrusion campaign into “several French entities” by hackers likely linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU). The breach occurred between 2017 and 2020 and took advantage of a vulnerability in monitoring software developed by the Paris-based company Centreon, whose clients include the French Ministry of Justice, news agencies, and major private firms. It is unclear which or how many organizations the hack impacted. ANSSI said that the breach “bears several similarities with previous campaigns attributed to the intrusion set named Sandworm,” a GRU hacking group whose officers have been sanctioned by the European Union and indicted by U.S. authorities. ASD Program Assistant Joseph Bodnar and Program Manager and Analyst Bradley Hanlon argue that supply chain hacks for espionage reveal cybersecurity shortcomings that threaten the ability of democracies to defend against foreign interference.

In Case You Missed It

  • Several European countries led by France have endorsed a proposal to establish a long-term United Nations group that would consider how to respond to government-backed cyberattacks.
  • The Biden administration announced it has paused and is reviewing proposed bans of the Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok.
  • Dutch political parties and social media platforms agreed to avoid using microtargeted political advertising ahead of the country’s March 17 election.
  • Twitter announced it will add labels to key government officials and institutions to give users more context into geopolitical discussions on the platform.
  • Facebook is testing an algorithm that reduces political content in Canada, Brazil, and Indonesia, and the platform will expand the algorithm to the United States in the coming weeks.
  • The Biden administration selected Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, to lead the government’s response to the SolarWinds hack.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow is prepared to cut ties with the European Union if the bloc imposes sanctions amid tension around the arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos concerning the company’s ties to a Chinese technology firm that provides facial recognition software used to identify members of the oppressed Uighur minority.

ASD in the News

Adapting and Evolving: Russian Foreign Interference, Atlantic Council. Virtual event with Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

Os robôs da vacina (the vaccine robots), Crusoé. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

Quote of the Week

“We know that Russian actors and foreign actors are constantly laying in the cut to steal information to disrupt our way of life. Every day that we’re not detecting disruptions in our service or hacking that may be taking place leaves us vulnerable to really horrible things happening.”

  • Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), chair of the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation, told The Hill on February 10.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.