Apr 16, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Democrats accuse Trump administration of voter suppression in mail ballot fight

By Joseph Marks

PowerPost Analysis
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

with Tonya Riley

A woman hands out surgical masks to people standing in line to vote in Wisconsin’s spring primary election. (Sara Stathas for The Washington Post)
Democrats are accusing President Trump and his allies of using the novel coronavirus to suppress minority votes as they rally for federal funding to increase voting by mail during the pandemic.
They point to last week’s primary election in Wisconsin where Democratic efforts to delay the vote were stymied by Republicans and mail-in ballots never arrived for some voters. As a result, many voters in heavily African American Milwaukee County and elsewhere were forced to stand in blocks-long lines and risk contracting the virus to cast their ballots.
What we saw in Wisconsin is its own most cynical form of voter suppression,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), whose state votes almost entirely by mail, said during a call organized by the advocacy group Stand Up America. “That they would require Wisconsin voters to risk their health and risk their lives in order to vote is suppression of the highest order.”
Brown and other Democrats are urging up to $4 billion in federal funding to ensure mail-ballot access for all voters across the country.
The calls underscore how the pandemic and the chaos in Wisconsin have broadened the coalition pushing for major changes to the voting system. They’re also uniting groups that sought changes to protect elections against hacking by Russia and other adversaries, and those who want to ensure ballot access laws don’t disenfranchise minorities and lower-income voters. 
“We need Congress to act decisively so that voters across the country do not have to choose between their health and participation in democracy,” Georgia politician Stacey Abrams said during the call, citing the “travesty that we saw play out in Wisconsin.”
Abrams, a former Georgia state House minority leader, became a voting rights champion after narrowly losing the 2018 Georgia governor’s race amid claims of unfair purges of the voter rolls.
Abrams, who has put herself forward as a possible Democratic vice presidential pick in 2020, also jabbed Trump for criticizing vote-by-mail efforts when he voted by mail himself in the Florida primary. 
“We know that vote by mail works. We know it because it's worked in Governor Brown's state and we know it because Donald Trump has voted by mail himself, even though he wants to limit the options for others,” she said.
Republicans joined Democrats in approving $400 million for election security measures in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. But they’ve balked at placing any mandates on how states must use the money, such as that it be directed to vote by mail operations or expand early voting.
And despite himself casting an absentee ballot, Trump has railed against widespread voting by mail, charging without evidence that it frequently leads to widespread cheating.
Nevertheless, Brown and Abrams pointed to Republican efforts at the state level to expand mail voting in the primaries to argue there could be a bipartisan deal.
“Donald Trump is the outlier here,” Stand Up America founder Sean Eldridge said. “We are optimistic that if members of Congress listen to their constituents this should not be a partisan issue.”
Attorneys also cited voter suppression concerns in a lawsuit filed yesterday in North Carolina challenging the use of ExpressVote touchscreen voting machines across the state. 
Those machines, which officials plan to use in some form in 21 North Carolina counties in November, gained notoriety when they went haywire and called the wrong winner in a Pennsylvania county judge's race in November.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which include the North Carolina state conference of the NAACP, say the machines are vulnerable to hacking and malfunctions that could alter or cancel minority votes. They also argue the touchscreen machines are ill suited for use during a pandemic because disinfecting them requires extensive and time-consuming cleaning.
“North Carolina's increasingly diverse electorate recognizes the use of insecure voting system is the modern form of voter suppression,” said John Powers, an attorney for the plaintiffs and counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.
Of the 21 North Carolina counties that use the machines, seven rely on it as their primary form of voting and two others as the main option for early voters. The remainder use the machines mostly for voters with disabilities that prevent them from using hand-marked paper ballots.
A separate lawsuit is seeking to ban the machines in Pennsylvania.


The Pentagon. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
PINGED: A Pentagon watchdog found no evidence that Defense Department employees were unduly influenced by the White House when they opted to award its largest ever cloud computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon, Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg report. However, the White House refused to allow senior department officials to answer the Office of the Inspector General's questions, preventing the watchdog from making a definitive determination about the extent of the Trump administration's interactions with employees working on the deal. 
The report affirms the Pentagon “conducted the JEDI Cloud procurement process fairly and in accordance with law,” Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Amazon seemed like an early favorite to build the massive system, which was first announced in 2017, and challenged the award that went to Microsoft last October. During the late stages of that process Trump publicly criticized Amazon and cited complaints from its competitors. He also has a a notoriously antagonistic relationship with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.
Oversight groups say the report doesn’t rule out improper conduct by Trump, who recently fired the Pentagon’s acting inspector general.
“Essentially what we learned from the IG report is that while there was no successful effort to influence the award, it appears that they tried given the fact that they invoked the privilege,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “And that’s not okay. There’s no place for the president’s personal vendettas in a contracting decision.”

Two women stroll on the Coney Island boardwalk. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)
PATCHED:  The pandemic continues to be a boon for hackers:
Security companies are trying to pitch in, though. 
  • Cloudflare now offers a free coronavirus assistance package for state and local governments to help them protect their websites and deal with increased traffic demand.

North Korean flags flutter in front of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly building in Pyongyang, North Korea. The country's parliament is scheduled to convene April 10. (Kyodo News/AP)

PWNED: The Department of Homeland Security yesterday sounded an alarm about North Korean hacking activities, noting the isolated regime “has the capability to conduct disruptive or destructive cyber activities” and has a lengthy history of using its hacking tools to steal from banks and other financial institutions. 
DHS joined the FBI and other agencies in calling on global allies to halt any joint ventures with North Korean firms and to expel any North Korean IT workers from their countries “in a manner consistent with applicable international law.
The United States last year sanctioned hackers linked to Pyongyang for several cyberattacks, including hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2015 and launching the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that infected the computers of hundreds of thousands of victims and spread to more than 150 countries. 
The alert warns that North Korea has a pattern of disruptive and harmful cyber activity that is wholly inconsistent with the growing international consensus on what constitutes responsible State behavior in cyberspace."
The New York Times called the warning “a sign that deterrence is failing.”


Cybersecurity news from the public sector:

A group called the IUVM is behind the operation.
The Verge

The VERDICT tool aims to allow systems engineers to assess cybersecurity even without deep expertise.


Cybersecurity news from the private sector:

Zoom brings in Luta Security to reboot bug bounty program.

People who trade in zero-day exploits say there are two Zoom zero-days, one for Windows and one for MacOS, on the market.

BT says plans to remove the Chinese-made equipment from the sensitive core network have been delayed.
BBC News

Lee Holloway programmed internet security firm Cloudflare into being. But then he became apathetic, distant, and unpredictable—for a long time, no one could make sense of it.


  • The Open Technology Institute will host an online event on work-from-home digital security on April 21 at 11:00am. 

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