Latest On Cyberattacks On The U.S. Election. | CAI

Latest On Cyberattacks On The U.S. Election.

Oct 22, 2020
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We got more news from the federal government tonight about cyberattacks on the U.S. election. Yesterday, the story was about efforts by Iran; tonight, we're learning more about attacks originating from Russia. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting and joins us now.

Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What have you learned about the newest attacks?

PARKS: So these attacks came from one of Russia's most formidable hacking groups, sometimes known as Energetic Bear or Dragonfly. The U.S. government says that over the past month or so, they've been observed targeting a range of government networks across the country, including aviation systems and in some cases election systems. This isn't new for this group. A couple of years ago, there were reports about them hacking into nuclear power plants in this country.

So in the cases of two local election jurisdictions, local government systems were breached. And because of the simplicity of those networks, the attackers also got some access to a limited amount of voter data. But federal government officials are stressing that there's no indication that this was some sort of targeted attack on election infrastructure. Basically, what they say is that these sorts of attackers are probing for vulnerabilities anywhere. They were able to find them in the case of this county. And once they got in, they were able to access some voter data.

SHAPIRO: Well, we know that Russia's interference directed at the U.S. spiked in 2016 and has never really stopped since then. How does this latest revelation fit into the picture?

PARKS: Right. What election officials say is that - national security officials say, I should say, is that there's comparatively less activity from Russia on the election interference landscape right now than there was in 2016 in terms of active attempts of breaches. But there's been a lot of discussion since 2016 about what happened then and how to protect our elections now. What U.S. election officials tell us - and I cannot stress this for listeners enough - there is no indication that these sorts of attacks or the attacks in 2016 led to any changes of votes or any access to the tallies of those votes.

But what foreign adversaries are targeting are the systems basically one step or two steps removed from those vote-tallying systems. Maybe it's a website that reports results or gives voters information, for example, potentially with an effort to maybe try to affect those sorts of sources of information, make a hack seem like it was worse than it was and try to sow some doubt in those results, even if the actual underlying data wasn't actually touched.

SHAPIRO: Miles, just a couple days ago, federal officials indicted six Russian officers for hacking into other countries' elections. What are they doing in response to this activity?

PARKS: Right. We know that Russia has an interest in bringing down a number of democracies around the world, not just ours. One thing they're doing this time around that's really different than the last presidential election is talking about this sort of interference openly. The director of national intelligence and the FBI director convened this hastily convened press conference yesterday to talk about another foreign interference effort, this one from Iran, where this Iranian group was sending emails to voters, intimidating emails, basically trying to tell them to vote for President Trump - they were to registered Democrats - or else, basically, is what they said.

The Treasury Department said today it's imposing new sanctions on Iranian government agencies that American officials believe are behind that attack. And now they're looking basically to try and attribute this election interference today to basically give voters an eye out for what to look for in the future.

SHAPIRO: Iran yesterday, Russia today - is this just what life is going to be like at least until Election Day on November 3?

PARKS: I hate to say it, but it kind of looks that way. You know, we knew that these foreign adversaries still had an interest in our democracy. But what election officials say is that the two things voters can do to kind of fight back is, A, look for trusted information on all of this stuff. Misinformation is a huge part of this election interference puzzle. And then the other thing is, don't be discouraged to go out and vote. Don't have these doubts and these fears affect people who are, you know, thinking about going out and voting. That is what the adversaries' underlying goals are in a lot of these cases, is to try and get voters to not participate. Election officials say don't let them win.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.