Election interference in 2018


News & views

Staff & Wire Reports



A view of a business centre building known as the so-called "troll factory's" new office in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is one of a web of companies allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A view of a business centre building known as the so-called "troll factory's" new office in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is one of a web of companies allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)


Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at the DC CyberTalks conference, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


Christopher Krebs, undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate, speaks during a news conference on election cyber security, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


A look at interference in the 2018 US midterm elections

By MICHAEL BALSAMO

Associated Press

Monday, October 22

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the Justice Department unsealed criminal charges detailing a years-long effort by a Russian troll farm to “sow division and discord in the U.S. political system,” it was the first federal case alleging continued foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Earlier Friday, American intelligence officials released a rare public statement asserting that Russia, China, Iran and other countries are engaged in ongoing efforts to influence U.S. policy and voters in future elections.

The statement didn’t provide details on those efforts. That stood in contrast with the criminal charges, which provided a detailed narrative of Russian activities. Russian activities have also been outlined in previous criminal cases.

A look at what is known about foreign efforts to interfere in U.S. elections:

WHAT IS THE U.S. WORRIED ABOUT?

The U.S. has a lot of concerns; ballot tampering, hacking into campaigns, open and covert attempts to sway voters.

Friday’s announcement didn’t suggest that electoral campaigns or systems were compromised. Instead, it spelled out a focus on foreign campaigns aimed at undermining confidence in democratic institutions.

The criminal charges detailed how a Russian troll farm created thousands of false social media profiles and email accounts that appeared to be from people inside the United States. While social media companies are making an effort to combat fake accounts and bogus news stories ahead of the upcoming elections, there is a concern from advocates that it may not be enough to combat the foreign interference.

IS RUSSIA MEDDLING IN U.S. ELECTIONS?

The criminal complaint provided a clear picture that there is still a hidden but powerful Russian social media effort aimed at spreading distrust for American political candidates and causing divisions on social issues such as immigration and gun control.

Prosecutors said a Russian woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, worked for the same social media troll farm indicted earlier this year by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The case largely mirrors the one brought by the special counsel’s office against three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, and 13 Russians — including a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Court papers describe how the operatives in Friday’s case would analyze U.S. news articles and decide how they would draft social media messages about those stories.

They also show that Russian trolls have stepped up their efforts with a better understanding the U.S. political climate and messages that are no longer riddled with misspellings.

In 2016, Russian trolls were trying to help elect Republican Donald Trump and harm the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, while also sowing discord in America.

The latest charges show that Russia is continuing to focus on the latter, instead of helping a particular candidate. The case detailed how the operatives would often sent messages with diverging viewpoints about the same issue from different accounts.

WHAT ABOUT IRAN?

The Trump administration has accused Iran of all kinds of misconduct, including sponsoring terrorism and posing a threat to Middle Eastern nations.

But it hasn’t released evidence to back up its claim that Iran is trying to sway U.S. elections.

The U.S. has previous accused Iranians of cyberattacks that appear unrelated to politics.

In March, the Justice Department announced that nine Iranians carried out a yearslong cyberattack to steal secrets from American companies, universities and the government. Prosecutors said the hackers had worked at the behest of the Iranian government-sponsored Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Among the targets were employees at the Department of Labor, the Federal Regulatory Commission and the states of Indiana and Hawaii.

That case came about two years after the Justice Department indicted seven Iranian hackers for attacking dozens of banks and a small dam near New York City.

WHAT IS THE THREAT FROM CHINA?

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence charged that Russia’s influence attempts pale in comparison to covert and overt activities taken by China to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections. He accused China of trying to counter the administration’s tough trade policies against Beijing.

While many details of Russia’s covert actions have been released, the accusations against China have been mostly about open activities such as advertising supplements and targeted tariffs. Unlike the accusations against Russia, no details about covert Chinese activities have been disclosed.

The vice president noted that a multi-page advertising supplement was inserted several weeks ago in the Des Moines Register in Iowa, a pivotal state in this year’s elections and the 2020 presidential election. The supplement “designed to look like news articles, cast our trade policies as reckless and harmful to Iowans,” Pence said.

He also charged that China responded to Trump’s tough trade policies with tariffs of its own designed to inflict maximum political damage.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have been high because of trade disputes, and Trump frequently criticizes China.

ARE FOREIGN THREATS HAVING AN IMPACT?

That remains unclear.

Intelligence officials have stressed that Americans should take steps to verify the information they read on social media and have called on technology companies to boost protections.

The national security agencies said they currently do not have any evidence that voting systems have been disrupted or compromised in ways that could result in changing vote counts or hampering the ability to tally votes in the midterms, which are 2½ weeks away.

“Some state and local governments have reported attempts to access their networks, which often include online voter registration databases, using tactics that are available to state and nonstate cyber actors,” they said.

But so far, they said, state and local officials have been able to prevent access or quickly mitigate these attempts.

The Conversation

Open-source hardware could defend against the next generation of hacking

October 17, 2018

Author: Joshua M. Pearce, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University

Disclosure statement: Professor Joshua M. Pearce is the author of the Open Source Lab. He receives funding for various projects involved in open hardware from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) through America Makes: The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which is managed and operated by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). He also receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for technical projects. In addition, his past and present research is supported by many non-profits and for-profit companies in the open source industry including re:3D, 3D4Edu, Miller, Aleph Objects, CNC Router Parts, Virtual Foundry, Ultimaker and Youmagine, Cheap 3D Filaments, MyMiniFactory, Zeni Kinetic, Matter Hackers, and Ultimachine. He has no direct conflicts of interests.

Imagine you had a secret document you had to store away from prying eyes. And you have a choice: You could buy a safe made by a company that kept the workings of its locks secret. Or you could buy a safe whose manufacturer openly published the designs, letting everyone – including thieves – see how they’re made. Which would you choose?

It might seem unexpected, but as an engineering professor, I’d pick the second option. The first one might be safe – but I simply don’t know. I’d have to take the company’s word for it. Maybe it’s a reputable company with a longstanding pedigree of quality, but I’d be betting my information’s security on the company upholding its traditions. By contrast, I can judge the security of the second safe for myself – or ask an expert to evaluate it. I’ll be better informed about how secure my safe is, and therefore more confident that my document is safe inside it. That’s the value of open-source technology.

Computer hardware is, for the most part, like the safe whose security mechanisms are secret. Any weaknesses are hidden, as well as any of their strengths. In the wake of revelations that Chinese spies may have been able to install a tiny computer chip inside devices used by as many as 30 companies, like Amazon and Apple, as well as the U.S. military and the CIA, I suggest re-evaluating the hardware people and corporations rely on to protect their secrets.

Hacking hardware is particularly dangerous because it can bypass even the most secure programming safeguards – like taking control of a server without needing a password at all. Hardware customers could benefit from the clear – if surprising – lesson the software industry has learned from decades of fighting prolific software hackers: Open-source systems can be more secure.

Lessons from open-source software

Software users and developers already embrace computer software whose source code is publicly accessible. All supercomputers, 90 percent of cloud servers, 82 percent of smartphones and 62 percent of embedded systems – like those inside consumer electronics – run on open-source operating systems. More than 70 percent of “internet of things” devices also use open-source software.

Open-source software isn’t inherently or automatically more secure. But it creates more possibilities, and market pressure, for improving security. Just as when choosing a safe to store a secret document in, customers must decide – should they pick a system whose security is vouched for by the company that makes it, or a system that can be explored, examined and tested?

Open-source software users choose not to trust a program unless they can verify it independently. Many of them don’t have the expertise themselves to be able to evaluate security claims, of course – but they can wait until consumer-protection groups do so independently, hire a verified expert to check things out, or even learn the skills needed to investigate for themselves. They could even decide to pay for a version of the software that has been checked out and is supported by experts.

Security with open-source hardware

Open-source hardware offers users the same choice. Many people who buy electronics have no idea what’s inside them. Even technically sophisticated companies like Amazon have to hire outside forensic experts to be sure of exactly what is in the hardware their companies rely on.

Open-source hardware would mean each device’s designs and components would be open for public view at any time. People could study the information, follow the directions to build a device, test it and distribute it – or even sell it. All that transparency would give attackers more data about their potential targets, for sure. But it would help customers downstream much more, by giving them the means to verify their own devices’ security themselves.

This does not mean people would be left to build their own hardware. The open-source software movement has found a number of opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to sell systems and services based on software that itself is free. For instance, 90 percent of the companies on the Fortune Global 500 list pay for a brand-name version of the open-source Linux operating system from Red Hat, a company that makes billions of dollars a year for the service they provide on top of the product that can ostensibly be downloaded for free. The open-source hardware movement is not yet as mature as its software counterpart, but it could catch up fairly quickly.

The future of distributed manufacturing

Making open-source hardware systems more available increases regular people’s security by giving them verifiably secure options. If someone is especially concerned, they could even manufacture their own electronics. There are a wide range of designs already publicly available on sites like Hackaday, Open Electronics and the Open Circuits Institute. There are also many communities based on specific products like Arduino.

Even open-source chips are gaining traction. It’s already possible for people to build electronics that are open-source from the chips all the way up to the physical components. If hardware hacks become more common, that may be a key way for people to protect their cybersecurity. Companies and governments can also be expected to adopt policies that favor open-source hardware and require better testing to ensure their equipment is safe to use.

Comment: Russell Stuart is a Friend of The Conversation

I suspect this will be one of the defining problems of our age. The movie “The Matrix” wasn’t science fiction, it was science prediction. The Gattaca movie for the virtual world we are moving into. Most information we see and hear is already delivered electronically. When it is spied upon and manipulated without us know we have problems. In the case of East European banks who were infiltrated, private lives and communication styles researched for months, then hit with a wall of deception that created a short lived Matrix style world where transferring money to the puppet masters that created it, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of problems. Such cyber hacks are roughly growing by 40% per year.

Yet it appears most of the adult population still doesn’t understand the dangers in the cyber world they are being sucked into. You see it over and over again, from Australian Electoral officials walking into the exact trap described in the article, where they choose a flashy slick but secret propriety box sold by smooth salesman to a ugly home grown open source solution that came with cryptographic proofs (the flashy box was later hacked, of course), the US Democrats (of all people) being phished by Russian hackers to reveal all their polling and strategies, to an avalanche of Queenslanders being seduced online by Nigerian prices.

Right now, most people in IT don’t seem to grasp the basic principles of trust and security outlined in this article. I’ll be long dead before the man on the street regards considers the basics of computer security its as plain as knowing you have to look both ways before crossing the road.

The Conversation

Generation Z voters could make waves in 2018 midterm elections

October 19, 2018

Author: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

Disclosure statement: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg as part of CIRCLE at Tufts University, receives funding from the Democracy Fund, she is affiliated with Democracy Works, Generation Citizen and Nonprofit Vote, Nellie Mae Foundation, the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences where she serves as a member of a commission, speaker bureau, advisory board, or the board of directors.

Partners: Tufts University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

Unlike the much-studied millennials, we don’t know much about Generation Z, who now make up most of the 18- to 24-year-old voting bloc.

These young people started first grade after 9/11, were born with the internet, grew up with smartphones and social media and practiced active-shooter drills in their classrooms.

In 2018, they have taken an active role in political activism on issues like gun control, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. For example, Parkland high school students started the movement against gun violence and named voting as a way to support the movement.

Yet, many people are skeptical about Generation Z’s commitment to voting. For instance, The Economist explained, in a piece titled “Why Young People Don’t Vote,” that “young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society.”

Will Generation Z affect the midterm elections?

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, where we do research, has been watching young people’s civic and political behaviors for nearly 20 years. This fall, my colleagues and I are conducting two large-scale national surveys of 2,087 Americans ages 18 to 24 to document and understand what Gen Zs are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.

So far, the data point to a surge in political engagement, intention to vote and outreach between friends to encourage voting. Gen Zers may be voting for the first time, but they are certainly not new to politics.

All signs point to youth wave

Young voters have a reputation of not showing up to the polls, especially in midterm elections. This trend goes back 40 years.

There are a few ways we can find out how likely it is that people in Generation Z will turn out to vote.

First, we can just ask. In our survey, 34 percent of youth said they are “extremely likely” to vote in November. While a survey can’t predict exact turnout numbers, data from previous surveys we’ve done using this approach have been close to actual turnout numbers. Other evidence supports this measure of intent to vote: Voter registration among young people is up in key battleground states and overall.

Research also shows that activism and intent to vote are strongly correlated. So, in our survey we also asked young people about activism, such as participating in protests, union strikes, sit-ins and walk-outs.

The proportion of young people who join protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from 5 percent to 15 percent. Participation is especially high among young people who are registered as Democrats.

Finally, we found that young people are paying attention to politics more than they were in 2016. In 2016, about 26 percent of young people said they were paying at least some attention to the November elections. This fall, the proportion of youth who report that they are paying attention to the midterm races rose to 46 percent.

It’s clear that more young people are actively engaged in politics this year than 2016. Why?

Cynicism and worry aren’t obstacles

To learn more about what might be motivating Generation Z to vote, we asked our survey participants to rate their level of agreement with three statements.

“I worry that older generations haven’t thought about young people’s future.”

“I’m more cynical about politics than I was 2 years ago.”

“The outcomes of the 2018 elections will make a significant impact to everyday issues involving the government in my community, such as schools and police.”

In this year’s survey, we found that young people who feel cynical are far more likely to say they will vote. Other research has found that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts.

Among young people who said “yes” to all three of those questions, more than half – 52 percent – said they are extremely likely to vote. Among young people who said “no” to all three of those questions, only 22 percent were extremely likely to vote.

Our poll results suggest political involvement in this generation is far above the levels we usually see among youth, especially in midterm election cycles.

In fact, almost 3 out of 4 youth – 72 percent – said they believe that dramatic change could occur in this country if people banded together. Gen Z is certainly aware of the challenges ahead but they are hopeful and actively involving themselves and friends in politics. Beyond almost any doubt, youth are involved and feel ready to make a dramatic change in the American political landscape.

Consumer Fraud Advisory Group Presents “No Scam Zone” at LIFE Expo on October 28

The Consumer Fraud Advisory Group is a collaboration of agencies that work together to help protect consumers from fraud and scams in Ohio

Columbus, OH (October 23, 2018) – Representatives from the Consumer Fraud Advisory Group, a coalition of partners within Ohio that work together to share data, resources and provide collaboration to educate and protect consumer and donors against fraud, will be presenting a No Scam Zone panel discussion at the LIFE Boomers+ Expo on Sunday, October 28.

The LIFE Boomers+ Expo will be held at the Bridgewater Banquet & Conference Center from 11am to 4pm. Beginning at 12:45pm, representatives from Better Business Bureau, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Franklin County Adult Protection Services, the Columbus Division of Police Economic Crime Unit and Fraud and Forgery Unit will present a No Scam Panel Presentation on the latest scams affecting Central Ohio. The presentation will provide information on:

  • Scams in Central Ohio so consumers are more likely to spot one before falling victim
  • What to do when receiving an email or phone call that may be a scam
  • How to report it when you believe you were the victim of a scam

The goal of the Advisory Group is to utilize and share resources and information, such as BBB’s Scam Tracker, to ensure that the public is informed and educated, and does not fall victim to frauds or scams by untrustworthy businesses and individuals.

Sgt. Aaron Dennis from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office noted that “the education outreach that is available through the Advisory Group allows our agency to prevent victimization in various types of crimes.”

“Collaboration has always been an integral part of BBB’s mission,” said Kip Morse, President & CEO of BBB Serving Central Ohio and organizer of the Advisory Group. “The Consumer Fraud Advisory Group is an outstanding way for the Ohio Association of BBBs, government agencies, law enforcement and consumer protection groups to work together to focus on fraud education and enforcement.”

A view of a business centre building known as the so-called "troll factory’s" new office in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is one of a web of companies allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616069-e0c269da25a6412f8d30c2126530c5f3.jpgA view of a business centre building known as the so-called "troll factory’s" new office in St.Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. The troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, is one of a web of companies allegedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at the DC CyberTalks conference, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616069-636cae64ee094d409f7255f293f902ed.jpgDirector of National Intelligence Dan Coats speaks at the DC CyberTalks conference, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Christopher Krebs, undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, speaks during a news conference on election cyber security, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/10/web1_121616069-18b97068e64f41d981c2229d994a6ad9.jpgChristopher Krebs, undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, speaks during a news conference on election cyber security, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
News & views

Staff & Wire Reports