Apr 8, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Trump rails against supposed dangers of mail in voting as coronavirus spreads

By Joseph Marks

President Trump at a coronavirus task force briefing. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg News)

President Trump railed yesterday against expanding voting by mail to keep U.S. citizens safe during the coronavirus pandemic, calling the process “horrible,” “corrupt” and prone to widespread fraud. 
It's a controversial marker for the president to set down when many states have had to delay their primary elections because of fears that in-person voting could spread the virus. And it puts him at odds with congressional Democrats pushing for billions in federal money to ensure no-excuse absentee voting for all Americans in November – as well as many Republican state officials in places like Georgia and West Virginia that are  rushing to broaden mail-in voting during the pandemic.
Trump's pointed criticism could cast doubt on the validity of mail-in balloting for some of his supporters and make it awkward for Republican state officials who want to pursue the strategy in case in-person voting is still a problem in November.
“Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters,” Trump said during his daily coronavirus news conference, though there is no evidence that mail in voting substantially increases fraud. In fact, election security hawks may be pleased to see an all-paper ballot election that by nature limits the hacking and other dangers of an electronic process.
Nonetheless, the president went on to charge that widespread voting by mail would lead to thousands of forged ballots. But the president defended his own decision to vote by mail in Florida, saying out-of-state mail votes are more acceptable and suggesting his absentee ballot was better verified than others.
“I can vote by mail because I’m allowed to,” he said. “I happen to be in the White House, and I won’t be able to go to Florida to vote.”
The declarations came the same day Wisconsin held a primary election bedeviled by closed polling sites, long, snaking lines and voters who said they were forced to show up at the polls after absentee ballots they requested after the pandemic struck never arrived, as my colleagues Elise Viebeck, Amy Gardner, Dan Simmons and Jan M. Larson report.
Wisconsin is the only state with an April primary that didn't delay voting because of the pandemic. The election went forward after the Republican-led legislature and state Supreme Court blocked efforts by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone voting.
That prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of forcing voters to risk their health to exercise their democratic rights. They also fretted that if the federal government doesn’t move fast, it could result in millions of Americans being disenfranchised in November.
Trump has also played into Democrats' fears, seeming to suggest during an earlier news conference that voting by mail would favor Democrats and that if he had agreed to Democrats’ demands for $4 billion for voting by mail and other reforms in the recent $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Democrats were able to secure only $400 million with no mandates on how states must spend the money in the stimulus bill. A Senate bill  mandating nationwide access to absentee ballots and expanded early voting days sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) hasn't won over any Republicans.
The fight also “foreshadowed the likelihood that Wisconsin, an important presidential battleground state, could become the epicenter of partisan rancor as the health crisis continues to upend the 2020 race,” as my colleagues noted. 
State officials don't plan to release results in the race until Monday.
Trump yesterday described alleged instances of absentee voter fraud where “you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room signing ballots.".
There’s no evidence at all of absentee voter fraud on that scale, and states that vote entirely by mail range from left-leaning Washington and Oregon to conservative Utah. Absentee voting is at the center of a handful of voting fraud scandals, however, most notably during a 2018 North Carolina congressional race, which led the State Board of Elections there to order a new vote and produced criminal charges against a Republican operative among others.
Trump also charged, incorrectly, that Evers tried to delay the vote only after the president endorsed the Republican in a hotly contested state Supreme Court case. In fact, Evers pushed to delay the election before Trump’s endorsement and has been seeking other remedies –  including sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters. But he is barred from acting without the legislature.
CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez documented the blocks-long line outside one of only five voting locations that opened in Milwaukee because of public health concerns and a dearth of poll workers willing and able to work during the pandemic.
The city typically has about 180 polling locations open on Election Day.
In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, THIS is the line for in person voting as the polls open for Election Day in Wisconsin. #COVID19 #ElectionDay pic.twitter.com/WplsSHy9RF
— Omar Jimenez (@OmarJimenez) April 7, 2020
Klobuchar called the long lines “outrageous,” declaring “we cannot continue to ignore the threat that #COVID19 has on our elections.”
What's happening at polling locations across Wisconsin right now is outrageous. We cannot continue to ignore the threat that #COVID19 has on our elections.
We must plan ahead for Nov. & pass my bill to keep all Americans safe by expanding #VoteByMail & extending early voting.
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 7, 2020
Even former first lady Michelle Obama tweeted that no American should have to choose between protecting their health and casting a ballot.
Today, Wisconsin voters had to choose between making their voice heard and keeping themselves and their family safe. No American should ever have to make that choice.
We must do better to ensure voting is safe for all voters. The latest Wisconsin voting information is below. https://t.co/x1LwEb9H4N
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) April 7, 2020
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a former presidential candidate, used Wisconsin’s primary to release her own plan, which calls for least $4 billion to protect elections during the pandemic along with all the same mandates in the Klobuchar-Wyden bill.
The plan got an enthusiastic thumbs up from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who remains in the Democratic primary race but is trailing far behind former vice president Joe Biden.
I agree with @ewarren that our response to the COVID-19 crisis must include a robust plan to protect the right to vote, and in fact, make it easier to vote.https://t.co/bgWZomzt3j
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 7, 2020


 Richard Grenell. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

PINGED: House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) plans to ramp up congressional oversight of the intelligence community after a series of changes he says suggest intelligence officials might be unduly influenced by the White House. Those actions threaten to undermine critical intelligence functions, including election security, he said in a letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.
The letter cites concerns that intelligence officials walked back a March 10 assessment that Russia is supporting Trump in 2020 after the assessment leaked and embarrassed the White House. Trump tapped Grenell, a longtime loyalist, to replace acting DNI Joseph Maguire after that briefing despite Grenell's limited intelligence experience.
“It calls into doubt whether Congress and the American people can trust that the [intelligence community] will continue producing unvarnished intelligence assessments on foreign interference efforts as the 2020 presidential election approaches,” Schiff wrote.
He asked Grenell for an updated briefing on election security by the end of May. The letter also raises concerns about Trump's recent firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson who played a pivotal role in his impeachment.
Grenell accused Schiff on Twitter of sending the letter to the media before his office, an allegation Schiff denied.
His letter was sent to the press before it was sent to me. These press leaks politicizing the intelligence community must stop. https://t.co/hdWIzGWvZr
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) April 7, 2020

(Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
PATCHED: A group of Democrats including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate video conferencing company Zoom, Cristiano Lima at Politico reports. Blumenthal slammed the company for a pattern of security and privacy infringements and for misleading users over the level of security it offers.
The facts & practices unearthed by researchers in recent weeks are alarming—we should be concerned about what remains hidden. As Zoom becomes embedded in Americans’ daily lives, we urgently need a full & transparent investigation of its privacy & security.
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) April 7, 2020
The request escalates security concerns raised by several lawmakers in the past week over how the company handles sensitive user data. Zoom has released several fixes in response to concerns and said it’s eager to cooperate with lawmakers.
The Department of Homeland Security said that the company has begun to address security concerns and that Zoom’s product for government is safe for federal use, Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing at Reuters report.

A protective mask is improperly discarded on a curb. (Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images)
PWNED: Hackers are ramping up their use of the coronavirus as a lure for digital scams, researchers at the cybersecurity firm McAfee report this week. Hackers have used the dark web and encrypted messaging groups to spread scams selling face masks — and even blood from a person who allegedly recovered from the virus and might be immune.
McAfee lead scientist Christiaan Beek:
Seriously I hope this is a hoax/scam #Darknet pic.twitter.com/rk8Fuq64SP
— Christiaan Beek (@ChristiaanBeek) March 30, 2020
“The volume of threats related to COVID-19 has been significant, with lures used in all manner of attacks,” Beek and researcher Raj Samani write. Hackers have hit the health-care sector, followed by finance and education, the hardest.
McAfee Labs found several malicious Android applications with names like “Corona Safety mask” that contained spyware and ransomware. Researchers also noticed an increase in coronavirus-themed documents that were being sent to victims and contained malware that would steal their personal information.


Still hungry for more election security guidance? Here are reports out yesterday and this morning from the cybersecurity company Expel, Free Speech for People and Verified Voting.
The North American Energy Reliability Corporation wants to delay the deadline for several cybersecurity upgrades for the energy sector during the pandemic, Homeland Security Today reports. Fortress Information Security CEO Alex Santos told me by email that was a “necessary decision” as “most utilities are ‘all hands on deck’ protecting their vast remote workforce from cyberattacks.”
— More cybersecurity news from the public sector:

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) raised concerns on Tuesday around potential privacy violations involved in Google’s decision last week to share anonymized location data to help track movement during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Hill

If you’re not already skeptical of emails asking for money in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the FBI wants you to remember this: It’s a common scam these days. And it works.

In court filing, Israeli spyware company says it does not operate technology it provides
The Guardian


Cybersecurity news from the private sector:

A study by Oxford University researchers examined 225 pieces of content that independent fact checkers had rated false or misleading between January and March. They found that 59 percent remained on Twitter, 27 percent on YouTube, and 24 percent on Facebook.
Craig Timberg

Exclusive: The data has already been posted on a popular hacking forum.


Cybersecurity news from abroad:

India has told Facebook and Chinese video app TikTok to remove users found to be spreading misinformation about the coronavirus following concern about videos intended to mislead Muslims, according to a government source and a letter seen by Reuters.

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