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US Mid-term elections plagued with misinformation

US Mid-term elections plagued by digital fake news

With the continued fall-out from the 2016 presidential election and the ongoing investigation into potential Russian interference in the political system, those involved in the mid-term elections, just three months away, claim that they are the targets of social media misinformation campaigns.

Take Kamala Harris and her bid to become a US Senator. Her office said that they are plagued with fake Facebook profiles that seek to mislead the voters about her policies. They reported that for the last 18 months, her campaign has been attacked with, on average, three to five fake profiles every month.

This has become so prevalent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) now employs a staff of 40 on its technical team, many Silicon Valley veterans to try to counter the barrage of misleading, negative attacks and strengthen its own security.

We’re providing as much assistance to campaigns as we can, but there’s only so much we can do.

For all the high-level campaigns I’m worried, but at least there are people to talk to. The mid-sized campaigns are at least getting technical volunteers, but the truly down-ballot campaigns, that’s where the state parties and coordinated campaigns can help.

But there’s no doubt that this is an uphill battle when we’re dealing with a foreign adversary.

- Raffi Krikorian: Chief Technology Officer, DNC

Just last week Homeland security officials raised the problems facing the mid-term elections and the forthcoming 2020 presidential election. Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Chief described it as, ‘our democracy is in the crosshairs.’

While some campaigns have introduced security measures there are currently no protocols in place for campaigns or national parties to monitor the extent of the attacks.

Nor, it seems are there any signs that law enforcement agencies are playing a proactive role in protecting elections from meddling on a day-to-day basis.

At the end of the day, the US government is not putting any type of bubble around any campaign. They do not have the authority, capacity or capability to do it.

NSA is not sitting on the ISPs filtering out malicious traffic. They’ve got to take pro-active actions themselves.

- Shawn Henry: CEO, Crowdstrike

Recently Facebook said it had removed 32 fake accounts from its website and Instagram that were involved in coordinated political behaviour. They said that 300,000 people had followed one account which featured names such as Black Elevation and Resisters, designed to manipulate Americans with particular ethnic, cultural or political identities.

Earlier this month Microsoft said it had discovered a fake domain had been set up as a landing page for phishing attacks. They believe the site was established by a hacking group that had links to Russian intelligence.

Apart from the lack of national, coordinated protocols to protect democratic elections the very nature of US political campaigns can be a challenge to defend from cyberattacks.

Essentially, they are pop-up organisations that rely heavily on volunteers. And, of course they can be extremely expensive when it comes to high-tech IT expertise.

For Kamala Harris, who has ambitions to run for the 2020 presidential election, her office continues to try to stem the tide. And they are, it seems, on their own. While they have had no contact with the FBI it is they who have to report their findings to Facebook and not the other way around.

For us Brits looking on, we can only wonder and worry just what might happen with future votes, be they referendum or elections.

TG Bamford author photo


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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