Securing Democracy Dispatch

Securing Democracy Dispatch

November 26, 2018

Our Take

The Alliance for Securing Democracy’s Bradley Hanlon and Samuel Riddell published “Disinformation at the Dinner Table,” a guide for discussing influence operations with skeptical family members over the holidays.

News and Commentary

New agency takes lead on cybersecurity while state officials struggle with election reform: The new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to take the lead in coordinating public-private and interagency cooperation on cybersecurity. State and local officials still lack funding for proper security, however. While California has allocated resources to reform its election security, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla noted that despite common agreement on what must be done, other state and local governments lack the resources to implement reforms. Primarily due to cost, it is likely that six states will still lack basic paper backup of ballots in the 2020 presidential election, a major security flaw. (The Washington Post, Axios)

Facebook continues to struggle with scandals as governments increase pressure: On November 22, Facebook’s communications and policy chief Elliot Schrage took responsibility for hiring a lobbying firm that spread negative stories about the company’s critics, specifically confirming that Facebook asked the firm to spread theories regarding financier George Soros. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, rejected a request to testify in front of lawmakers from seven countries, instead offering to send a lower-level official. In the U.K., where Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to testify for lawmakers, Members of Parliament seized documents pertaining to the company’s handling of user data as part of an investigation into privacy breaches on the platform. MP Damian Collins stated that the investigation will ascertain whether the company’s public statements accurately reflect its internal policies on sharing user data. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC)

Australian and U.S. governments report an increase in Chinese cyber data theft: Internet traffic to Australia was diverted through mainland China over a six-day period in June in what is reportedly a targeted data theft by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), according to an investigation by Fairfax Media/Nine News. The hackers penetrated “poorly secured IT service providers” to steal information, causing data en route from Europe and the United States to Australia to take up to six times longer to arrive. The data breach violates an agreement between the Australian and Chinese governments to refrain from stealing each other’s commercial secrets. The U.S. government has also reported an increase in Chinese hacking aimed at stealing American information and technology ahead of a meeting between U.S. and Chinese heads of state this week. (AFR, The Sydney Morning Herald, AP News)

In Other News:

– The Ukrainian parliament prepares to vote on martial law after Russia seizes three Ukrainian ships.

The Washington Post published a harrowing story of the rise of a satirical Facebook page and the social media users who believe and spread its lies.

– The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions against a network of Russian and Iranian companies involved in the covert sale of Iranian oil to Syria.

The Washington Post published an investigation into the Russian government’s use of South Ossetia, a separatist region of Georgia, to circumvent sanctions and provide support to separatists in Ukraine.

– Hackers likely linked to Russian intelligence services impersonated State Department officials Heather Nauert and Susan Stevenson last week.

– Russia launched a lawsuit against Google for refusing to remove certain entries from its search results.

– The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project exposed the titles and land bestowed on Russian President Putin’s bodyguards in exchange for their loyalty.

– The governments of the U.S. and U.K. clash with Russia at the annual conference for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Washington Post analyzed tweets from the Russian Internet Research Agency to identify the troll factory’s local news strategy.

Hamilton 68 dashboard

Accounts tracked by the Hamilton 68 dashboard last week continued to spread various stories alleging voter fraud and manipulation during the 2018 midterm elections, focusing heavily on alleged conspiracies in Florida and California. Following the seizure of three Ukrainian ships by the Russian military over the weekend, accounts switched focus to Ukraine, promoting various articles from Russian government sources that provide a Kremlin-friendly depiction of the event.

Quote of the Week

“Russia’s ability to escalate and provoke should be no surprise to Western decision makers. Yet we fail the test time after time—and the bill is paid by our allies.”

– Edward Lucas for CEPA, November 26, 2018

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.