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Federal agencies warn of disinformation around cyberattacks on election infrastructure

Federal agencies warn of disinformation around cyberattacks on election infrastructure
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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Monday warned that foreign groups and other malicious actors online are spreading disinformation around potential cyberattacks on U.S. election infrastructure. 

“During the 2020 election season, foreign actors and cyber criminals are spreading false and inconsistent information through various online platforms in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions,” the agencies wrote in a joint public service announcement.

They noted that “these malicious actors could use these forums to also spread disinformation suggesting successful cyber operations have compromised election infrastructure and facilitated the ‘hacking’ and ‘leaking’ of U.S. voter registration data.”

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Voter registration databases were successfully accessed in a few states by Russian agents ahead of the 2016 presidential election, though there is no evidence any voter registration rolls or ballots were changed. 

The agencies warned that U.S. voter information is widely available through other avenues than illegal hacking, and that access to voter information had not impacted election results. 

“The FBI and CISA have no information suggesting any cyberattack on U.S. election infrastructure has prevented an election from occurring, compromised the accuracy of voter registration information, prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, or compromised the integrity of any ballots cast,” the agencies wrote. 

The warning comes weeks after Michigan's Department of State denied there had been any breach of its systems after U.S. voter registration information surfaced on a Russian hacking platform, with the agency noting that this information was available to anyone through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

The public service announcement issued Monday is the third joint alert the FBI and CISA have released over the past week. The agencies warned in the first alert that foreign actors would likely attempt to spread disinformation around election results in November. 

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A second alert warned that while malicious hackers were targeting election infrastructure, the agencies had seen “no reporting to suggest cyber activity has prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, compromised the integrity of any ballots cast, or affected the accuracy of voter registration information.”

The warnings are being rolled out just over a month before the Nov. 3 presidential election, which is seen as a major test for improvements made since Russian agents launched a sweeping attack ahead of the 2016 presidential election aimed at favoring now-President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE.

While the agencies emphasized no cyber targeting has been successful this year, a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an assessment in August warning that Russia was interfering in U.S. elections in favor of Trump, while China and Iran are doing the same in favor of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE

Microsoft also published findings earlier this month that Russian, Chinese and Iranian hackers were targeting political groups including the Biden and Trump campaigns, while Facebook took down three major networks of accounts last week tied to Russian efforts to spread malign foreign influence. 

The FBI and CISA on Monday urged voters to be careful consumers of election-related information, urging them to “critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information,” such as state and local election officials.