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Aug 5, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Trump’s endorsement of mail voting in Florida is about politics not security


Joseph Marks


The dramatic shift comes after months during which the president has slowly pared back his criticism of mail voting by drawing a series of distinctions between good and bad instances of the practice that often strained logic.
This most recent change, however, probably was driven more by electoral politics than by a newfound respect for the security of Florida’s mail voting system.
It comes after a string of reports showing Republican distrust of mail voting is rising and that GOP requests for mail ballots are lagging behind Democrats’ requests in numerous states. That could spell disaster for the Trump campaign during an election in which many people may choose to stay home rather than risk contracting the novel coronavirus by voting in person.
In Florida, which is a perennial swing state in presidential elections, Republicans often outpace Democrats in voting by mail. But this year, GOP mail ballot requests are trailing Democratic requests by nearly 600,000.
I think he’s looking at the lead Democrats have in requested ballots now and tactically softening his stance on mail balloting in Florida,” Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who studies voting trends, told me. “His campaign knows this is important.” 
Trump hasn't reversed himself entirely on mail voting, though. His campaign also sued Nevada over a plan to send mail ballots directly to all registered voters saying it would make voter fraud “inevitable," the Nevada Independent reports.

Trump justified his reversal by claiming Florida had worked harder at establishing mail voting than other states. 

“Florida’s been working on this for years and they have a very good system of mail in,” he said during a news conference, suggesting it was the result of good management by two Republican leaders, Gov. Ron DeSantis and former governor and now Sen. Rick Scott.
The president acknowledged “maybe a couple other states they worked out a system,” but he didn’t name any names.
Florida has indeed invested many years in expanding mail voting and ensuring it runs smoothly.
“Our counties are used to handling large volumes of mail ballots,” Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford (R) told me. “There are processes and procedures my colleagues and I have put in place that have been tested over the years.”
With mail voting surging during the pandemic “it’s just a matter of scaling up,” he said.
But numerous other states have made similar investments, including some the president has attacked, such as California. And states that have put the most work into mail voting are the ones where nearly all voters cast ballots by mail as a default — a system Trump has also attacked. Those states are Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii.
For states that don’t have well established mail voting systems there is indeed a chance of delays and mishaps, but no significant chance of widespread fraud as the president has repeatedly claimed.

The mail voting process and safeguards also aren’t substantially different in Florida than elsewhere. 

All states require a process to verify voters’ identities such as a signature and a bar code on ballot envelopes. And they ensure voters aren’t also casting ballots in person.
When it comes to authorizing people to vote by mail, Florida is, if anything, on the permissive end of the spectrum.
The state has allowed anyone to cast a mail ballot without an excuse since 2002. Since 2014, anyone who signs up for a mail ballot in one election will automatically receive mail ballots through the next two general elections.
That would seem to run afoul of one of the main criticisms Trump has lobbed at mail voting in recent months  — that the voters don’t go through a sufficiently rigorous request process.
Indeed, when Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) opted to send mail ballot request forms to all voters in just this year’s primary and general election contests, Trump threatened to hold up federal funding to the state. He said at the time that “common sense would tell you that massive manipulation can take place,” and warned of “fraudulent ballots.” Election officials say it’s nearly impossible to fake a mail ballot because of verification procedures.
Trump also crowed in his tweet that Republicans had halted Democrats from undermining Florida’s mail voting system. In fact, progressive who brought the case he’s probably referring to reached a settlement. They had sought changes mostly around the edges of the system — an extended deadline for mail ballots to be returned, free postage for those ballots and the removal of a restriction on paid workers collecting mail ballots to return them in bulk.

Florida also doesn’t square with another Trump claim — that absentee voting is good, but mail voting is bad. 

Those terms are used interchangeably in many states, but Trump drew a stark distinction until very recently.
At a news conference as recently as Monday he declared, “Absentee ballots are great. Absentee ballots, they have to request them, they go through a process, they get them. But the universal mail-in ballots have turned out to be a disaster.”
He backpedaled on that claim in yesterday’s tweet, declaring, “Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure.”
In fact, Florida officials shifted to describe the practice as voting by mail versus absentee voting after the 2014 law passed to stress that it was available to anyone, whether they were absent from the state or not.
“You can live next door to your polling place and request a ballot under Florida law,” Stafford told me.

The keys



GOP concerns about mail voting were also on display in primary contests in Kansas and elsewhere yesterday. 

Ron Harrison, 70, a retired mechanical engineer and conservative Republican voter in Olathe, Kan. called mail voting “a disaster in the making.”
He also warned the Postal Service, which is suffering a severe budget shortfall,would not be able to handle the surge in ballots, a claim Trump himself has also made. “It’s silly,” Harrison said. “There is no reason to do that and open up potential problems. The post office can’t handle that amount of mail.”
Voters in Michigan, meanwhile, cast a record-breaking 1.6 million mail ballots, prompting concerns that mail voting in November will outpace election officials’ ability to handle it, Paul Egan, Dave Boucher and Frank Witsil at the Detroit Free Press report. Officials there are pushing for a rule change so they can start counting mail ballots before Election Day to ensure they’re tallied in a timely manner.
The Michigan secretary of state and other election officials urged primary voters to bring their mail ballots to physical drop boxes rather than risk sending them through the mail. Michigan voters complained they received their ballots just before Tuesday's vote or, in some cases, not at all.

The NSA wants military and intelligence personnel to turn off location-sharing on their devices. 

The advisory comes as a government push against the Chinese-owned app TikTok is highlighting national security concerns related to the reams of data many apps collect for marketing and advertising purposes, Byron Tau and Dustin Volz at the Wall Street Journal report.
That data can be especially damaging if it falls into the hands of U.S. adversaries, the National Security Agency warns.
“Location data can be extremely valuable and must be protected. It can reveal details about the number of users in a location, user and supply movements, daily routines (user and organizational), and can expose otherwise unknown associations between users and locations,” the agency bulletin warned.
Apps don't need to connect to a device’s location data to pose a risk, the NSA warns. That’s because savvy hackers can figure out an app’s location by looking at the WiFi signals it’s connecting to or by spying on location data in photos. U.S. military branches have already banned TikTok. The Pentagon imposed a similar ban on location-tracking fitness apps in 2018 after it was revealed data from run tracking app Strava could be used to map out military bases.

The Florida teen who allegedly masterminded a massive Twitter hack plead not guilty.

Graham Ivan Clark, a Tampa-based 17-year-old, is facing 29 separate fraud charges in connection with the hack of 130 high-profile Twitter accounts last month, the Associated Press reports. Clark and two accomplices breached the accounts of high-profile users such as former vice president Joe Biden and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to spread a Bitcon scam that duped users out of more than $100,000.
He’s scheduled for a bond hearing today with bail set at $725,000.
Mason Sheppard, 19, of the United Kingdom, and Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando, were also charged separately for the hack last week in California federal court.

Chat room


Senators were yesterday briefed on foreign threats to the 2020 election. Here's what Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had to say:

Hill happenings



Democrats wants to know whether a data-mining company sold protester data to the police.

The company, Mobilewalla, released a report in June that showed the demographics of protesters based on their location data, as BuzzFeed News first reported. “We have serious concerns that your company’s data could be used for surveillance of Americans engaging in Constitutionally-protected speech.” Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) wrote to the company's CEO.
Sharing the cellphone data with government agencies may have allowed police to evade a Supreme Court ruling that requires them to obtain a warrant for cellphone data first, they suggested.

A new bill would ban companies from using facial recognition on customers without their consent.

The legislation, introduced by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) follows a recent Reuters report that Rite Aid used facial recognition technology in hundreds of its U.S. stores for nearly a decade without consumers knowing.
The legislation would require companies to get written consent from consumers before collecting their biometric data. Failure to do so could open the door for state or consumer lawsuits. Facial recognition technology used by private companies is largely unregulated in the United States. Only three states including Illinois have biometric privacy laws on the books.
More government cybersecurity news:

Global cyberspace



There's no reason for Australia to ban TikTok, prime minister says.

The security review of the Chinese-owned app departs from a decision by U.S. allies to consider banning the app, Reuters reports.
“We’ll obviously keep watching them, but there’s no evidence to suggest to us today that that is a step that is necessary,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters at the Aspen Security Forum yesterday.
Microsoft is in talks to buy some TikTok's English-country assets from parent company ByteDance, including its business in New Zealand and Australia.

A former NSA director says the United States needs to push back against Chinese cybertheft.

The coronavirus pandemic is the time for the United States to regain its edge in an ongoing cyberwar, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, and Jamil N. Jaffer, the former chief counsel and senior adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, write in Barron's.
"We must…push back, using all elements of national power, to end the Chinese campaign of cyber-enabled economic warfare, including through the use of trade measures, sanctions, persistent cyber engagement, and, where necessary, more aggressive actions," they write. "We cannot allow trade deals or our desire for cheap Chinese goods to force us to sit on our hands, leaving our private sector alone to fight this war. Doing so means certain defeat.”

Daybook


  • Black Hat will take place virtually through Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine federal and industry efforts to improve cybersecurity in the energy section today at 10 a.m.
  • DEF CON will take place virtually August 5-8.

Secure log off


Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler gives new Alexa-enabled glasses a spin:

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