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Russia-linked bots hone attack plans for 2018 elections

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A recent spike in cyberattacks is causing analysts to predict that there will be more attempts to pilfer political information and interfere in 2018 midterm election races following an unprecedented attempt by Russian operatives to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, Bloomberg reports. 

In a recent example, pro-Russia social media bots coordinated an online attack campaign against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) using the hashtag “#ExplainMcCain” after the senator criticized President Trump for his failure to adequately condemn hate groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Va. 

{mosads}Ben Nimmo, a senior information defense fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, told Bloomberg that the networks of online software tools may try to steer the debate on issues in the 2018 midterm elections the way that they have been accused of doing in 2016. 

“They haven’t stood still since 2016,” Nimmo told Bloomberg. “People have woken up to the idea that bots equal influence and lots of people will be wanting to be influencing the midterms.”

Experts say that Russia’s propaganda efforts have begun to target specific audiences online in the U.S. and across Europe, attempting to engage Americans with far-right views and amplify them through the use of automated accounts.

The German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, an international initiative aimed at deterring efforts to undermine democratic processes, is intensely monitoring online messages and activity on key topics ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, focusing on accounts they suspect are connected to Russian government operations.

These accounts are readying for the election “and sowing seeds of discord,” Laura Rosenberger, a senior director at the group, told Bloomberg, adding that the accounts are “potentially laying the groundwork for what they’re going to do in 2018 or 2020.”

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