Our Take

The Alliance for Securing Democracy released the Election Official’s Handbook which highlights six recommendations local election officials can implement at relatively little cost to fortify their election systems before the 2020 presidential contest. You can access it here. Written by Fellow for Elections Integrity David Levine, the handbook was featured in Politico’s Morning Cybersecurity newsletter, Democracy Fund’s weekly Election Line, and Democracy Digest.

Ahead of the Nevada caucuses, Levine told the Washington Post that to avoid a situation where disinformation can drown out accurate information, it is important that the Nevada Democratic Party be clear about what they are doing and how they are doing it. He stressed in an interview with NPR that if there is an information vacuum, it will be filled, and also told PBS that voters should reach out to local and state officials with questions about elections. But, as he said to Sirius XM, disinformation is only one election security concern.  

To mitigate any potential issues with new technologies, such as security flaws in voting apps, local officials should consider holding mock elections, Levine told Route Fifty. He also expressed concerns about how the Nevada Democratic Party might train poll workers on using new technologies ahead of the caucuses in The Hill.

It is time to reformulate U.S.-China competition around democratic values, not economic or military power, because the message that matters is uniting allies around commonalities, said Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman in Formiche.

Conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus spread by state-backed media within Russia go against facts and science, eroding the public’s trust in the notion of truth, Fellow for Media and Digital Disinformation Bret Schafer explained in Foreign Policy.

Europe needs a China strategy and Brussels needs to shape it, argued Advisory Council member Julie Smith with Torrey Taussig in Lawfare. In an op-ed for War on the Rocks, Smith argued that the 5G debate in Germany ought to be about democratic nations protecting their societies and economies from authoritarian influence.

News and Commentary

U.S. officials say Huawei builds equipment with “back doors,” gaining secret access to global telecom networks, according to The Wall Street Journal: Chinese telecom giant Huawei has built equipment that preserves its ability to access “back doors” in networks designed for use by law enforcement, according to U.S intelligence officials, in reporting by The Wall Street Journal. Late last year, the United States reportedly provided details about Huawei’s covert capabilities to allies, including the UK and Germany, reinforcing its concerns about the company’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party. While the German Foreign Office called this evidence a “smoking gun,” British officials said last week that the information was previously presented to them and had already been factored into their decision to give Huawei access to parts of their 5G networks. Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina and Fellow Nad’a Kovalcikova have warned that government decisions on 5G infrastructure investments throughout Europe should minimize the role of high-risk vendors such as Huawei. (Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, GMF)

Facebook removes three networks using fake accounts originating in Russia, Iran, Myanmar and Vietnam: Last Wednesday, Facebook took down multiple networks for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on its platform, including one with ties to the Kremlin’s military intelligence services (GRU) that targeted countries across Eastern Europe. GRU operatives created false personas to pose as journalists and attempted to trick journalists into amplifying false content. According to social media mapping firm Graphika, these false personas sometimes entrapped users via private messaging and posted anti-Western and pro-Kremlin messaging across a range of platforms. The other campaigns originated in Iran, and Myanmar and Vietnam, and involved impersonating journalists or consumer news hubs and posting critical commentary to mislead audiences. Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt argued that the Kremlin’s most recent campaign illustrates the need for greater cross-platform coordination to prevent malign actors from spreading content designed to polarize and mislead. Former Research Assistant Bradley Hanlon has also analyzed the increasingly sophisticated efforts by Russian and Iranian actors to target journalists, and echoed the call for media, tech companies, and online news consumers to collaborate in defending the information space. (Facebook, Graphika, Twitter, Lawfare, ASD)

U.S. Justice Department charges Chinese military members with 2017 Equifax data breach: Federal prosecutors alleged that four members of Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army hacked into the systems of credit reporting agency Equifax, stealing trade secrets and the personal data of nearly half of all Americans. Announcing the indictment last Thursday, Attorney General Barr called China’s efforts a “deliberate and sweeping intrusion into the private information of the American people,” warning that data thefts of this kind can also feed into China’s development of artificial intelligence tools. Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman has argued that the United States cannot ignore the reality that the large-scale collection of personal data is one of the Chinese Communist Party’s goals. Head of Research and Policy Jessica Brandt has also written with Torrey Taussig that China’s strategic use of cyberattacks are one of four distinct channels through which Beijing seeks to shape the information space. (Washington Post, Twitter, The Washington Quarterly)

In other news

  • The Nevada Democratic Party announced that it will report the results of its caucuses on an iPad and use a Web-based calculator through Google Forms to complete caucus math.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with top EU officials to discuss online content regulation days before the European Union will release new rules on regulating artificial intelligence.
  • The United Kingdom said it plans to legislate social media companies’ efforts to block or remove harmful content on their platforms; UK culture secretary Nicky Morgan announced that the broadcast watchdog, Ofcom, will be responsible for policing online platforms.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice charged Huawei with racketeering and stealing trade secrets from six unnamed U.S. companies over the course of two decades.
  • Lawmakers from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party endorsed a position paper on 5G that stops short of banning Huawei but recommends strict security criteria for equipment suppliers.
  • The Trump administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2021, which if approved, would double non-defense artificial intelligence spending and increase quantum information science research.
  • The National Counterintelligence and Security Center released a new strategy that emphasizes protecting U.S. elections and critical infrastructure from attacks by foreign actors, and defending against intellectual property theft, among other threats.
  • Russia interfered in Western elections in 2019 and will likely intervene again in the 2020 U.S. presidential contest, according to the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Services’ latest annual threat assessment.
  • Following the release of a government watchdog report claiming the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is not well-positioned to execute a nationwide strategy for securing elections, the department’s top cybersecurity official announced a new strategy; it focuses on assisting political campaigns, increasing public awareness about foreign interference, and facilitating greater information sharing, among other priorities.


Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

ASD experts collected data last week illustrating that the Russian media ecosystem prominently featured updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, particularly on Twitter. Amidst limited coverage of the U.S. presidential race on Twitter, the results of the New Hampshire primaries were addressed straightforwardly, suggesting that smooth elections limit opportunities to cast doubt on election integrity. Read more here.

Quote of the Week

“Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation and espionage. It could also jeopardize our intelligence and communication-sharing capabilities, and by extension it could jeopardize our alliances.”

  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned at the Munich Security Conference (February 15, 2020)
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.