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Nov 10, 2020

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Georgia fight shows how Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims are splitting GOP


Joseph Marks


Their calls echo a barrage of unfounded claims of voter fraud from Trump, who is disputing the election results in a slew of states including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. Attorney General William P. Barr has also authorized the Justice Department to investigate such claims, prompting the resignation of the career prosecutor who oversees the department’s voter fraud investigations.  

Raffensperger shot back that he had no intention of resigning and that the election had been well-run and fully transparent. “As secretary of state, I’ll continue to fight every day to ensure fair elections in Georgia, that every legal vote counts, and that illegal votes don’t count,” he said, calling the charges of lack of transparency “laughable” as his office updated vote counting totals hourly and held twice-daily news conferences. 

The attacks reflect an ironic outcome of the 2020 election: It was largely free of the foreign interference that election officials feared after 2016 and more Americans participated than ever before despite the coronavirus pandemic. But its integrity is nevertheless being undermined by Trump and other Republicans unhappy with the results. 

“This is partisanship run amok,” David  Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said on Twitter. He added that Raffensperger “conducted a secure and transparent election, with new election tech and record turnout, during a pandemic, and he and other election officials should be respected for their successes.” 

In fact, this month’s election was almost surely the most secure and transparent in Georgia’s history. 

That’s because it was run with a new statewide network of voting machines that produce paper records that can be audited later. They replaced an older generation of paperless systems that would have produced no records to audit for evidence of fraud, hacking or technical errors that changed votes. 

The state also probably will conduct a recount of those ballots if the vote remains as close as it is — something that would have been impossible to do with any rigor in 2016 or 2018. 

The attacks on the election's integrity could be particularly damaging in Georgia, which is preparing for two runoff Senate elections that could determine control of the chamber. Perdue and Loeffler will both be defending their seats in those elections. 

As a parting shot, Raffensperger noted: “As a Republican, I am concerned about Republicans keeping the U.S. Senate. I recommend that Senators Loeffler and Perdue start focusing on that.” 

Raffensperger didn’t deny that there may have been fraudulent votes in Georgia. But he insisted such votes were not widespread. 

“Was there illegal voting? I am sure there was,” he wrote. “And my office is investigating all of it. Does it rise to the numbers or margin necessary to change the outcome to where President Trump is given Georgia’s electoral votes? That is unlikely.”

That echoed an earlier statement from Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system implementation manager, who declared the state’s election “an amazing success” and chastised those “trying to undermine the system.” 

Studies have shown voting fraud of all forms is exceedingly low. A Post review of voting by mail, which increased dramatically during the pandemic, found possible fraud accounted for about 0.0025 percent of ballots in the five states that voted primarily by mail in 2016 and 2018. That's about one ballot out of every 39,000.

Analysts were quick to pan the senators’ statement. 

Nate Silver, editor of FiveThirtyEight:

Brian Klaas, a professor of global politics at University College London:

Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the Third Way think tank's national security program:

Local reporters were gobsmacked:

Stephen Fowler, a reporter with Georgia Public Broadcasting:

Nicole Carr, a reporter with WSB, Atlanta’s ABC affiliate:

Other congressional Republicans have supported the president’s lawsuits and calls for recounts. 

They’ve also mostly held off on acknowledging Biden’s victory, which has been projected by The Post and other media organizations even without calling the state of Georgia. 

But many have not echoed Trump’s broad claims of wrongdoing.

During a speech on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared Trump is “100 percent within his right” to pursue recounts and litigation but he stopped short of repeating any of the president’s claims of widespread fraud. 

“This process will reach its resolution. Our system will resolve any recounts,” McConnell said.

Trump made similar claims of widespread voter fraud after the 2016 election in which he won the electoral college and the presidency but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. A commission Trump established to examine voter fraud in that election disbanded in 2018 after finding no such evidence. 

Georgia has made strides in making its elections more secure and accessible since 2016. 

In addition to its shift to paper-based voting systems, the state also ran extensive early and mail voting programs that made voting far safer and easier during the pandemic. 

The state is still facing a lawsuit, however, from security advocates who say its statewide system of ballot-marking device voting machines aren’t secure enough against hacking. 

They tried to force the state to halt using the machines shortly before the election because of a last-minute software update that they said could create vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit or cause technical malfunctions. They wanted the state to shift to hand-marked paper ballots, which many experts say are the best way of ensuring vote tallies aren't disrupted by hackers. 

Proponents of that lawsuit savaged the senators for attacking the secretary of state over the integrity of Georgia's voting process now, but not earlier. 

Susan Greenhalgh, senior adviser on election security for the advocacy group Free Speech For People:

Richard DeMillo, interim chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy: 

The keys

Trump's firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper sparks national security concerns from Democrats.

The sudden removal could leave America's cybersecurity more vulnerable during a volatile presidential transition, Democrats say.

“Secretary Esper’s termination creates unnecessary turmoil in the midst of a volatile political transition and a covid-19 pandemic, when strong leadership at DoD could not be more important,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to The Cybersecurity 202. “We need steadiness, unity and focus as we face these serious challenges, not petty squabbling and internal discord.” 

Warner also pointed to a recent increase in cyberattacks against U.S. hospitals and government networks.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity panel, called the firing “short sighted and bad for national security.” 

Republicans were more welcoming of Esper's replacement, Chris Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

“I just spoke with Acting Secretary of Defense Miller, and I look forward to working with him to ensure that these priorities remain paramount,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Zoom must establish a more comprehensive cybersecurity program as part of a settlement with the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission accused the popular video service of misleading consumers by claiming to offer stronger encryption than it actually did and compromising the security of some Mac users with its desktop application. 

Zoom also misled customers by saying their recordings were encrypted and uploaded to the cloud when they in fact remained on company servers unencrypted for up to 60 days, the FTC claimed.

The arrangement will also require Zoom to agree to a biennial third-party audit, the FTC announced.

Zoom fixed the concerns in the agreement before settling, Zoom spokeswoman Colleen Rodriguez said in a statement. The company began making end-to-end encryption available to all users last month. That means calls are encrypted in such a way that Zoom itself can’t access their contents. 

The agency could issue a civil penalty of up to $43,280 per violation of the agreement.

The 20-year settlement is a warning shot to all companies “that they need to live up to their privacy and security promises,” FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director Andrew Smith said on a media call.

Two commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, dissented from the agreement. They criticized the settlement for failing to offer any redress to consumers who may have been harmed by the fraudulent behavior.

Facebook took down pages spreading misinformation about voting fraud tied to former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

The pages used the “Stop the Steal” hashtag and other messaging to delegitimize election results, Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. The seven pages had more than 2.45 million followers.

Analysts at the liberal research group Avaaz flagged the pages after noticing that they seemed to be coordinating content in a way that raised red flags for inauthentic behavior.

“We’ve removed several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behavior tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said. 

The removals included one group originally named “Stop the Steal” that was later renamed “Gay Communists for Socialism” once it amassed a following. Stone said the group misled users about its purpose.

Facebook last week removed several groups using the “Stop The Steal” moniker amid concerns about calls for violence from some of the posts.

Bannon's personal page incurred penalties but was not removed. Some of the seven pages were tied to a crowdfunding effort Bannon helped spearhead to raise money for a private U.S.-Mexico border wall. Bannon and three of his allies were indicted for allegedly defrauding people that donated to that crowdfunding effort in August. 

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.

National security watch

The Biden team has not yet received intelligence briefings as part of the presidential transition.

The holdup is a result of the General Services Administration leader's refusal to sign a letter allowing the president-elect's team to begin work, Zachary Cohen at CNN reports.

The refusal by Trump appointee Emily Murphy could result in the first transition delay since the disputed 2000 election.

Lack of access to national intelligence during this politically contentious time could leave a Biden administration behind on addressing concerns in January.

“America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power,” a Biden transition spokesman said Sunday.

Global cyberspace

The European Union will put new guardrails on the export of spyware.

The regulation will require companies to get a government export license to sell facial recognition and certain surveillance technologies with military capabilities, Patrick Howell O'Neill at MIT Technology Review reports. The change comes in response to growing concerns about the use of the technologies by authoritarian governments to spy on dissidents and journalists. Enforcement will be up to individual European Union members. Guidance to consider the risk of human rights violations in licensing is nonbinding.

The action still needs to be finalized by the International Trade Committee and the European Parliament.

More cybersecurity news:

Cyber insecurity

A cyberattack caused a Vermont hospital to delay chemotherapy appointments. 

The disruption affected six hospitals in the University of Vermont Health Network, Sean Lyngaas at CyberScoop reports. As of Monday some of its systems were still down, making doctors unable to conduct mammograms and biopsies because they lacked patient data. The cyberattack comes amid a wave of such attacks against hospital systems in the United States.

Chat room

Langevin gave Politico a preview of his cybersecurity dream team for the Biden administration. His picks were former DHS cybersecurity chief Suzanne Spaulding as secretary of homeland security, former intelligence official Chris Inglis leading cybersecurity at the White House and Chris Krebs retaining his role as director of DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

Harvard's Belfer Center Cyber project director Lauren Zabierek chimed in with suggestions for more women on the team:

Daybook

The Atlantic Council will host a conversation with researchers at the Election Integrity Partnership on initial reactions to disinformation in the 2020 elections today at 11 a.m.

Secure log off

Global reaction to the Biden-Harris victory:

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