Sep 22, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Nevada dealt a major blow to Trump's plan to stymie mail-in voting

Joseph Marks

That case, which President Trump's campaign filed with much fanfare in August, marked its best chance to roll back mail voting in a state that's even remotely competitive. The defeat marks a major blow for the president, who has relentlessly attacked mail voting using a series of baseless rationales. 

The judge didn’t buy the campaign’s contention that there’s a clear danger that legitimate Nevadans' votes will be diluted by a wave of phony ballots.

Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that voting by mail will lead to droves of such phony ballots. Voting experts say attempts at such fraud would almost certainly be caught by verification procedures, and Judge James Mahan called the campaign’s claims “impermissibly speculative.”

He even warned that the Trump campaign had effectively slow-rolled the lawsuit so it would be decided just before the election

“Plaintiffs ask for a remedy to cure the ‘confusion’ caused by AB4 [the bill that enacted the mail voting change], yet they have positioned this case for last minute adjudication before the general election,” he wrote.

Nevada is among a handful of states that will send ballots directly to all registered voters to limit concerns about spreading coronavirus at polling sites, but it will keep some in-person polling sites open. Many other states and counties are sending mail ballot request forms to voters. 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said he was “pleased” with the ruling. 

Trump’s poor record on mail voting in the courts stands in stark contrast to his bombastic rhetoric on the topic. 

His attacks have arguably been too effective for his purposes and might depress Republican turnout. 

Only 45 percent of Trump voters said they were confident mail ballots would be counted accurately. 

That’s despite the fact Trump has flip-flopped and encouraged mail voting in particular states where he’s in a tight race and it might benefit him, such as Florida and North Carolina. And it could hurt his campaign as legal challenges against mail voting in Nevada and elsewhere fall flat. 

The campaign hasn’t fared much better in legal fights elsewhere. 

It made a big show of suing in California in May along with the Republican National Committee. That’s the first state that hasn’t historically sent ballots to all its registered voters but opted to do so during the pandemic. It claimed Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) overstepped his bounds by expanding mail voting by executive order. 

But the GOP stepped back after the state legislature passed a bill that effectively endorsed Newsom’s actions. 

The campaign hung tough after a similar setback in New Jersey, where the state legislature also passed a law backing an executive order for statewide mail voting by Gov. Phil Murphy (D). But that case is still limping along with less than two months to go until the election. And county clerks there are required to have all ballots mailed by Oct. 5. 

Another lawsuit targeting Montana is also still in progress. 

There, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) gave counties the option to conduct their elections entirely by mail or with larger in-person components. 

Despite Trump’s criticism, his campaign has not launched lawsuits to stop mail voting in Vermont and Washington, D.C., which both shifted to voting primarily by mail in November, or in the five states that traditionally conduct elections almost entirely by mail — Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii. 

It’s joined a handful of other cases launched by other plaintiffs seeking to put additional restrictions on how mail voting is practiced in Ohio, Minnesota and Arizona with mixed results and no major victories. 

The keys

Top Kremlin officials including President Vladimir Putin are “probably directing” an influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

The effort itself has been previously acknowledged but not the role of senior Russians. The assessment describes a prominent Ukrainian lawmaker connected to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, Andriy Derkach, as working through lobbyists, members of Congress and U.S. media organizations to disseminate and amplify anti-Biden information, Josh reports. 

The assessment was included in a classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review compiled with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI.

We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the document says, according to sources.

Intelligence officials similarly concluded Putin was likely directly involved in Russia’s 2016 effort to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and aid Trump. That effort included hacking and leaking documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. 

Chinese leaders are debating retaliating against Trump's TikTok and WeChat moves.

They're debating blacklisting a number of U.S. companies, but some leaders are hesitant to release a list of those companies before the U.S. election, Lingling Wei at The Wall Street Journal reports

While a list isn't finalized, several ministers have suggested Huawei-competitor Cisco Systems should be on it, Wei reports. Cisco declined to comment. Apple and Google could also face bans, Gerry Shih reported.

China has been planning a blacklist of U.S. firms since May 2019, when the United States first restricted Chinese-owned Huawei's access to U.S. technology over national security concerns. The White House has expressed concerns China will force Huawei to spy on the government’s behalf and that TikTok could be forced to turn over user data. 

A deal that would keep TikTok operating in the United States is still far from certain, though the White House has endorsed a plan for Oracle to buy the Chinese company's U.S. assets. TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance insists it will still own the majority of the company, an outcome the White House said is unacceptable, Rachel Lerman and Jeanne Whalen report.

European companies risk fueling human rights abuses by selling surveillance tech in China, Amnesty International says.

The technology is being used to aid China's mass surveillance programs, including abuses against its Muslim Uighur population in the Xinjiang region, the human rights group found. Companies based in France, Sweden and the Netherlands have all sold surveillance technology such as facial recognition tools to key Chinese players, Amnesty found.

France and Sweden, alongside other European Union members, are resisting a push to place human rights safeguards on exports of surveillance products. The European Parliament will meet today to vote on the restrictions. 

“E.U. governments’ condemnation of the systematic repression in Xinjiang rings hollow if they continue to allow companies to sell the very technology that could be enabling these abuses,” said Merel Koning, Amnesty's senior policy officer for technology and human rights. “The current E.U. export regulation system is broken and needs fixing fast." 

Industry report

Microsoft fixed a mistake that caused data from its search engine Bing to leak online. 

It's a rare security lapse for the software giant. Researcher Ata Hakcil, who discovered the unsecured data, reported it to Microsoft, which then protected the data with a password. 

"We've fixed a misconfiguration that caused a small amount of search query data to be exposed,” a Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet in an email. "After analysis, we've determined that the exposed data was limited and de-identified." 

Other industry news:

Hill happenings

Democrats rebuke Trump's plans for a government-owned 5G network. 

A recent proposal from the Defense Department would create a 5G network using spectrum that is currently reserved for Pentagon use and make it available to private companies as well.

The plan's opponents say that it could stymie private-sector innovation while benefiting companies loyal to Trump.

“The creation of a government-owned and operated 5G network will do nothing but slow the deployment of this critical technology,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the committee’s communications and technology panel, said in a statement. “The plan appears specifically crafted to enrich President Trump’s cronies.”

The Trump administration previously opposed plans for a government-owned 5G network.

More cybersecurity news:


  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “State and Local Cybersecurity: Defending Our Communities from Cyber Threats amid COVID-19” on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing, “Revisiting the Need for Federal Data Privacy Legislation,” on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Chad F. Wolf to be the next Secretary of DHS at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on threats to the homeland with FBI Director Christopher A. Wray as a witness at 10 a.m. Thursday.
  • New America’s Open Technology Institute will hold a virtual panel exploring how Internet platforms are addressing the spread of election-related misinformation on Oct. 1 at 1:30 p.m.

Secure log off

“Agents of Chaos” director Alex Gibney says there are aspects of the Trump administration that are not interested in curtailing Russian interference. Check him out with Cyber conflict researcher Camille François at our Post Live event.

For your next all-night hack. Pairs well with 01000110 01101001 01110011 01101000.

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