FBI, DHS warn that foreign hackers will likely spread disinformation around election results

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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned Tuesday that foreign malicious hackers will likely attempt to spread disinformation around election results later this year. 

The agencies put out a public service announcement warning that delays in final tallies caused by a larger number of mail-in ballots and other factors could fuel the disinformation efforts online. 

“State and local officials typically require several days to weeks to certify elections’ final results in order to ensure every legally cast vote is accurately counted,” the agencies wrote. “The increased use of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 protocols could leave officials with incomplete results on election night.”

The agencies warned that “foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.”

The FBI and CISA noted that the foreign malicious actors could carry out their interference through a variety of online tools. 

“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions,” the agencies wrote. 

The FBI and CISA recommended that the public rely on trusted state and local election officials for information around vote tallies, emphasizing that even if foreign hackers were able to gain access to state and local election websites, they would not be able to comprise underlying internal systems and data. 

The agencies did not mention any specific countries in warning of the election disinformation threat. 

The new public service announcement comes a month after William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released an assessment warning that Russia, China and Iran are actively interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Evanina assessed that Russia was interfering in favor of President Trump, while China and Iran were interfering in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Microsoft warned earlier this month of foreign threats to elections, announcing that it had seen evidence that malicious cyber actors in Russia, China and Iran were targeting political groups, including the Biden and Trump campaigns.

Tags China CISA Disinformation Donald Trump Election Security FBI Iran Joe Biden Russia
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