Oct 6, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Trump casts doubt on election integrity even from the hospital.

Joseph Marks

with Tonya Riley

Before he was even released from the hospital yesterday, President Trump was back to attacking the integrity of November’s election, inviting supporters in a tweet to be “Trump Election Poll Watcher[s].” 

The tweet linked to the “Army for Trump” website, where the campaign is aiming to recruit 50,000 supporters to watch polls on Election Day — a move Trump critics and election security advocates fear could lead to confrontations, voter intimidation and even violence on Election Day. 

The Army for Trump site invites supporters to “enlist” in a number of campaign activities including observing polling locations and the processing of absentee ballots, as well as  making calls for the campaign, registering voters and hosting “MAGA meetups.”

The Trump campaign has insisted it only wants its supporters to observe polling places and report any wrongdoing. But the campaign has also pressed the bounds of what’s legally allowed in some states and is suing for access to voting sites in Philadelphia where residents are collecting absentee ballots and registering to vote. The lawsuit quotes Trump’s unfounded rhetoric about voter fraud, warning “bad things are happening in Philadelphia.”

The concerns are heightened by Trump's repeated unfounded claims that Democrats intend to rig the election

During his first debate with Joe Biden, the president – who is now ailing from coronavirus and trailing in the polls – called on his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully." 

“Trump is asking his supporters to ‘enlist’ in his tin-pot dictatorial ‘Army’ that has ZERO connection to the actual @USArmy he refused to serve in,” Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said on Twitter. “He's trying to scare Americans away from voting. It won't work.” 

The seeming push for polling place confrontations is just one element prompting tension amid a wildly uncertain final month of the campaign. 

Within hours of the tweet, the president left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center despite being only days into his coronavirus treatment. Upon returning to the White House he removed his mask and urged people not to fear the virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

Trump's rhetoric has been alarming — especially in the wake of the debate during which Trump declined to condemn white-supremacist groups and urged one group, the Proud Boys, to “stand by” during the election. 

They also come as Republicans have far more leeway than in decades to challenge voters' qualifications at the polls. That's the result of  a 2018 judge’s ruling lifting a 1982 consent decree severely limiting such activities after a lawsuit in which the Democratic National Committee charged the Republican National Committee was trying to discourage Black people from voting. 

The FBI and Justice Department are planning for a range of civil unrest around voting this year.   

“Though the Justice Department monitors elections every year to ensure voters can cast their ballots, officials’ concerns are more acute this year that toxic politics, combined with the potential uncertainty surrounding vote tallies, could lead to violent demonstrations or clashes between opposing factions,” Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report

State attorneys general are making similar plans. 

Here’s Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser:

Activists are pushing for efforts in other states as well. 

A coalition of groups including Stand Up America and Human Rights Campaign sent a letter urging 22 state attorneys general to devote resources to preventing voter intimidation at polling places. 

“To be clear, we are not opposed to having legal, administrator-approved election monitors in polling places,” the groups wrote. “That happens every year and it’s an important part of accountability in our elections. That is not what Trump called for and his supporters know what he means.”

Lawmakers have also been sounding off on Trump’s calls.  

Here’s Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.):

And Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.):

Following Trump’s comments, Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection released fact sheets outlining laws barring voter intimidation in all 50 states. 

The bottom line: “The right of each voter to cast his or her ballot free from intimidation or coercion is a foundational principle of a free and democratic society” and protected in all 50 states, the institute states. 

The keys

Gonzo cybersecurity mogul John McAfee indicted for tax evasion.

He faces separate charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for recommending cryptocurrency offerings without disclosing he made millions for endorsing them.

McAfee was arrested in Spain, where he is awaiting extradition. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.

The charges are not connected to his eponymous anti-virus software company, which he left in the 1990s.

TikTok, WeChat bans violate international trade rules, China says.

The proposed Trump administration bans of both services “restrict cross-border trading services and violate the basic principles and objectives of the multilateral trading system,” a Chinese official said in a closed-door meeting at the World Trade Organization, Emma Farge at Reuters reports

Both bans, which were introduced in an August executive order, have been delayed by U.S. court rulings. 

U.S. officials disputed those claims at the WTO meeting. The United States has expressed concerns that the Chinese owners of TikTok and WeChat could compel them to share U.S. user data with the Chinese government. Both companies have disputed the allegations.

Ransomware remains the top cybercrime threat against European Union members.

Phishing emails and online scams have also spiked during the coronavirus pandemic, the European police agency Europol noted in its yearly Internet crimes threat report

The report highlighted the link between disinformation and a surge in cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The presence of disinformation became a crucial feature in the overall threat landscape during the crisis,” the report notes. Misleading information about potential cures made it easier for scammers to hawk fake cures, for example.

The report also warned that the E.U. is at higher risk of distributed denial of service attacks than it experienced in the past. 

Chat room

Government officials have brooded for years about when a cyberattack will amount to an act of war. But that determination may end up being made by insurance companies and attorneys.

A signal case is going on right now about whether insurers need to pay for some of the $10 billion in damage caused by the NotPetya cyberattack, which officials have linked to Russia. Check out this thread from Jon Bateman, a cybersecurity fellow for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for more.

More cybersecurity news:


  • The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is hosting an online symposium on Data and Democracy on October 15 and 16.
  • New America will host an event "Will We Ever Vote on Our Phones" on Oct. 21 at noon.

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