US boost­ing cy­ber de­fenses

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

WASHINGTON:

Fed­eral and state au­thor­i­ties are beef­ing up cy­ber de­fenses against po­ten­tial elec­tronic at­tacks on vot­ing sys­tems ahead of US elec­tions on Nov 8, but tak­ing few new steps to guard against pos­si­ble civil un­rest or vi­o­lence. The threat of com­puter hack­ing and the po­ten­tial for violent clashes is dark­en­ing an al­ready ran­corous pres­i­den­tial race be­tween Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and Repub­li­can Donald Trump, amid fears that Rus­sia or other ac­tors could spread po­lit­i­cal mis­in­for­ma­tion online or per­haps tam­per with vot­ing.

To counter the cy­ber threat, all but two US states have ac­cepted help from the US Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity (DHS) to probe and scan voter regis­tra­tion and elec­tion sys­tems for vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, a depart­ment of­fi­cial told Reuters. Ohio has asked a cy­ber pro­tec­tion unit of the Na­tional Guard, a re­serve force within the US mil­i­tary, for as­sis­tance to pro­tect the state’s sys­tems.

On Thurs­day, Ari­zona Sec­re­tary of State Michele Rea­gan and her cy­ber se­cu­rity team met with of­fi­cials from the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) and the DHS, in ad­di­tion to state-level agen­cies, to dis­cuss cy­ber threats, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Rea­gan. Cy­ber se­cu­rity ex­perts and US of­fi­cials say chances that a hack could al­ter elec­tion out­comes are re­mote, in part be­cause vot­ing ma­chines are typ­i­cally not con­nected to the in­ter­net. But the FBI sent a flash alert in Au­gust to states af­ter de­tect­ing breaches in voter regis­tra­tion data­bases in Ari­zona and Illi­nois.

Armed groups

Uniden­ti­fied in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told NBC News on Thurs­day that there is no spe­cific warn­ing about an Elec­tion Day at­tack, but they re­main concerned that hack­ers from Rus­sia or else­where may try to dis­rupt the process, likely by spreading mis­in­for­ma­tion by ma­nip­u­lat­ing so­cial me­dia sites such as Face­book and Twit­ter. DHS cy­ber se­cu­rity ex­perts plan to hold a me­dia brief­ing on Fri­day to dis­cuss the agency’s ef­forts with states to boost the se­cu­rity of their vot­ing and elec­tion sys­tems.

The po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence around the elec­tion has loomed in the back­ground of the cam­paign for months. Armed groups around the coun­try have pledged in un­prece­dented num­bers to mon­i­tor vot­ing sites for signs of elec­tion fraud. Voter in­tim­i­da­tion re­ported at polling sites so far prompted Democrats to ac­cuse Trump of a “cam­paign of vig­i­lante voter in­tim­i­da­tion” in four states on Mon­day. But lo­cal au­thor­i­ties sur­veyed by Reuters on Thurs­day in five states - Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ari­zona, Wis­con­sin and Flor­ida - said they were not in­creas­ing elec­tion-re­lated law en­force­ment per­son­nel or re­sources above 2012 lev­els.

‘A lot of talk, lit­tle action’

The FBI, which des­ig­nates one spe­cial agent from each of its 56 field of­fices for elec­tion crime mat­ters, has not in­creased its num­bers or given staff ad­di­tional train­ing this year, said an FBI spokes­woman. There has been no “sub­stan­tive change” in the num­ber of per­son­nel de­ployed by the rest of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which des­ig­nates As­sis­tant US At­tor­neys and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors within the agency’s Public In­tegrity Sec­tion to han­dle elec­tion crimes, ac­cord­ing to a spokesman. Jim Pasco, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, which rep­re­sents hun­dreds of thou­sands of US of­fi­cers, said cops are tak­ing the same se­cu­rity mea­sures they would take for any large event. He said he ex­pects the vows by mili­tias to mon­i­tor the polls to be “a lot of talk, lit­tle action.” —Reuters

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