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Jun 23, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Democratic election officials punch back on Trump mail voting claims

By Joseph Marks

with Tonya Riley
Democratic election officials are punching back at President Trump's unfounded claims that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud.
In a new digital ad, Democratic secretaries of state describe the president’s assault on mail voting as an effort to suppress minority votes and link it to a long history of racist voting requirements such as poll taxes. The video also attacks Trump and Republicans for other actions that make it harder to vote, such as voter ID laws and purging the files of people who haven’t voted in several elections.
White supremacy has no place in our elections and no place in our country,” the ad declares. It pledges Democratic secretaries of state will work to ensure voting by mail is an option for everyone during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ad – released at the same time as a new website promoting Democratic secretary of state candidates – marks a significant rhetorical escalation from election officials who’ve spent much of the pandemic countering the president’s unfounded claims with facts and figures that show fraud rates from voting by mail are exceptionally low.
It also underscores the stakes as election officials struggle to maintain public faith in the security and credibility of the 2020 elections while Trump continually undermines it.
“We’ve been working for years to make elections more accessible and more secure and we should be working equally hard to make elections safe during the covid 19 pandemic, [but] everything that Trump and Republican leaders are doing is the opposite of that,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, chairman of the Association of Democratic Secretaries of State, told me. “It’s galling and it’s frankly offensive.”

Padilla fears Trump's attacks will damage public faith in the election’s outcome without good reason.
That’s especially concerning because election officials have spent much of their time since Russia’s 2016 election interference operation scrambling to correct genuine and serious security vulnerabilities. Those include voting machines that lack paper records, voter databases that aren’t sufficiently protected against hacking and staff without appropriate cybersecurity training.
Hand-marked absentee ballots, meanwhile, create minimal security concerns, according to the vast majority of election security experts.
“The voters deserve to have not just easy access to the ballot box, but confidence in the electoral process,” Padilla said. “When Trump attacks vote by mail with his lies, it undermines confidence, not just in vote by mail but in the election more broadly. And that's a form of voter suppression if people lose confidence in the process and it drives down participation.”
Election officials have also been hit with a slew of new challenges since the pandemic struck making maintaining credibility with voters in November an uphill climb. Those include ballots not arriving on time, election machines not functioning and hours-long voting lines.
So, Trump’s baseless claims are only making things worse.
“Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy,” Padilla said. “Trump is working to undermine the confidence in election results that he may not like this November.”
California is home to one of the most intense battles over mail voting. 
The Republican National Committee is suing to reverse an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that counties must send absentee ballots directly to registered voters there. That differs from other states expanding mail voting during the pandemic by sending registered voters ballot request forms.
The RNC has steered clear of Trump’s broadsides against mail voting, instead accusing Newsom of violating counties’ authority over elections with “an illegal and brazen power grab.”
Padilla told me there’s nothing wrong with states choosing to send request forms, but expressed confidence his state's system is safe enough that such a move would be an “unnecessary extra step.”
Officials there were also concerned a gap in U.S. Postal Service funding could slow mail delivery and wanted to make the process as simple as possible, he said.

Mail-in ballots are placed in bins to be processed after arriving at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
The Democratic counterpunch comes as Trump is increasing his attacks on mail voting. 
The president tweeted three times about the process yesterday, claiming without evidence it will lead to a “RIGGED ELECTION” and foreign countries will print millions of ballots. He also tweeted people who protest police violence should also risk the pandemic to vote in person.
In fact, instances of possible mail fraud in states that vote almost entirely by mail accounted for just 0.0025 percent of ballots in 2016 and 2018  — or about one out of every 39,000, a Washington Post analysis found.
It would also be nearly impossible for U.S. adversaries to interfere in the election by printing phony mail-in ballots because of a series of security checks including unique bar codes that connect the ballot to the voter and signature verifications, as Amy Gardner reports.
Even the National Association of Secretaries of State, which includes both Republicans and Democrats and generally avoids correcting the president, said it was “not aware of any evidence supporting the claims made by President Trump,” Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin reported. “As always, we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns,” the association said. 
The tweets came as officials gear up for primary elections today in Virginia, New York and Kentucky. In Kentucky officials are already concerned about another debacle in which mail ballots don’t arrive and a reduced number of in-person polling sites are overwhelmed with voters, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion. (Alex Brandon/AP)
The president’s assault comes amid news that Vice President Pence voted by mail in Indiana’s 2020 primary. 
Pence is just the latest top Trump official – including the president himself – to have voted by mail despite the administration’s attacks on the practice. Business Insider was the first to report on Pence.
Aaron Blake did a roundup of other Trump administration and family members who voted by mail or attempted to do so. They include Melania and Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Brad Parscale, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Chat room

Here's more from NPR's Miles Parks on how Trump's unfounded claims are causing troubles for election officials:
A common theme I run into as I interview election officials, after the President tweets something misleading or false about elections, is exhaustion
— Miles Parks (@MilesParks) June 22, 2020
It is just SO much to deal with... So when the president tweets things out that aren't true, it's these people who have to spend their days setting the record straight, correcting people.
With everything else they have to worry about; it's another challenge stacked on top
— Miles Parks (@MilesParks) June 22, 2020
The keys
The European Union called out China for cyberattacks against hospitals during coronavirus.

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also said that China's spreading of disinformation about the pandemic cannot be tolerated.
She joins a growing chorus of world leaders rebuking China for the alleged hacking of health-care institutions during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen attacksWe put together the facts and the figures necessary to know, von der Leyen said following a videoconference between E.U. leaders and Chinese president Xi Jinping, Laurens Cerulus at Politico reports.  
The remarks follow similar warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that China is using  cyberattacks and disinformation to divide the United States and Europe. 
China has vehemently denied hacking health-care institutions.
A hacktivist group released data from 200 law enforcement groups in apparent retribution for police violence.

Police clear out Lafayette Park across the street from the White House after protesters attempted to pull down the Andrew Jackson statue in the park. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock).

The document trove published by the group DDOSecrets contained more than 20 years' worth of records. It may be the largest leak from law enforcement agencies to date, cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs reports
The files, dubbed “Blue Leaks, contain emails and training documents as well as information about how agencies have responded to recent protests against police brutality. The group leaked the documents on June 19 to coincide with the Juneteenth holiday, which celebrates the end of slavery. 
The information appears to have leaked from a Texas web design and hosting company that managed information sharing portals for several multistate law enforcement fusion centers, Krebs reports.
The leak also contains “highly sensitive information" including individual bank account numbers, personal information and mug shotsDDOSecrets worked to scrub the files for sensitive data about crime victims and unrelated parties, but knowingly included the financial information so that it could be used with other data sets to identify corruption, co-founder Emma Best told Andy Greenberg at Wired.
But some law enforcement supporters said the information could do more to harm investigations.
“With this volume of material, there are bound to be compromises of sensitive operations and maybe even human sources or undercover police, so I fear it will put lives at risk,” Stewart Baker, a former top official at the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security, told Krebs.
Apple will make it easier to see what data apps are collecting.
The company's next iOS update will require developers to self-report what kinds of data their apps collect and label information that could be used to track users across the Web. This will show up in a feature the phonemaker compares to a nutrition label on packaged food, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Heather Kelly report
That’s one of several moves Apple is making to improve privacy across its devices. 
The iPhone maker will also allow users to share approximate location data with apps rather than their exact location, the Verge reports. Apple already allows users to turn off location data, but this will allow them to use apps such as maps without giving up their exact location.
 Users can expect the updates to roll out sometime this fall.

Government scan

Trump will suspend some foreign worker visas through the end of the year, sparking a tech backlash.

President Trump speaks during a rally in Tulsa on June 20. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post).

The block on H-1B visas, which allow highly skilled workers to work legally in the United States, could have significant ramifications for tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple. 
BSA The Software Alliance, an industry trade group, said it “strongly urges the administration to consider the vital role nonimmigrants play in the U.S. economy and refrain from restricting employment of highly-skilled foreign professionals.” BSA  members include Microsoft and Oracle as well as security firms such as Trend Micro and  Splunk.
More government news:

Smartphone apps meant to track where people have traveled or whom they have been near are mostly buggy, little-used or not ready for major rollouts, raising concerns as restrictions lift and infections rise.
Wall Street Journal

The legislation includes some recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, but not the main one.

Industry report

Google will begin labeling some misleading photos in its image search. 

The Google and YouTube logos. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
The new fact-checking feature is an expansion of the labels Google already uses on its main search results and on YouTube, Rachel Lerman reports.  The label will appear as a small description on the photo. A larger preview of the photo will show a short summary and direct users to the fact-checking source.

Global cyberspace

China detained two Canadian citizens for political retribution, Trudeau says. 

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Blair Gable/Reuters)
China detained the two citizens just days after Canadian authorities arrested an executive of Chinese company Huawei at the request of the United States. “It has been obvious from the beginning that this was a political decision made by the Chinese government, and we deplore it and have from the very beginning,” Justin Trudeau said at a briefing Monday, Politico reports.
More international cybersecurity news:

Meng’s case has wedged middle-power Canada into the wider clash between two heavyweights: China and the U.S.

New Zealand police has seized assets worth NZ$140 million ($90.68 million) linked to a Russian man suspected of laundering billions of dollars in digital currency.


  • The Washington Post will host a conversation between John Bolton and Robert Costa today at 1 p.m.
  • The House Armed Services committee will mark up the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 on Monday and Tuesday.
  • The Aspen Tech Policy Hub will host an event on "Protecting Your Digital Reality" Wednesday at noon.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on online disinformation on  Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. The hearing will cover disinformation related to covid-19 and the recent racial unrest.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold an oversight hearing to examine Customs and Border Protection Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up the EARN IT Act of 2020 on Thursday.
  • Carnegie's Partnership for Countering Influence Operations and Twitter will host an event on influence operations on Twitter on July 9 at 1 p.m.
All events are virtual unless otherwise noted.

Secure log off

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