Updated Oct 19, 2022 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on cybersecurity ahead of the midterm elections

On Wednesday, October 19th, Axios congressional reporter Alayna Treene and cybersecurity reporter Sam Sabin led conversations about the rising threat of cyberattacks on civil society and how governments are responding to ensure election security ahead of the midterms and beyond. Guests included former Texas congressman Will Hurd and CSIS senior adviser for the homeland security and international security program Suzanne Spaulding.

Will Hurd explained what types of cybersecurity attacks pose the greatest threat today and how the nation should be preparing to ward off information-related attacks ahead of the midterm elections.

  • On foreign influence in the campaign information ecosystem: “The thing that I’m most concerned of right now in our upcoming elections is how foreign influence operations are permeating through all of the, let’s call it the ‘campaign information ecosystem.’ And so you’re seeing candidates, you know, parroting Kremlin talking points, and some of these candidates may win and that may have an impact on foreign policy going down the road. So it’s information operations is what I’m concerned about going into this election, not necessarily pure cyberattacks, because we’re prepared and ready for that.”
  • On which bad actors the U.S. is paying the most attention to now: “When it comes down to it, it’s Russia, and specifically their messaging on their invasion of Ukraine. They’re trying to question that, you know, the Ukrainians should be able to exist. They’re trying to question whether or not America and our allies should be supporting Ukraine. And so that is where the foreign information operations [and] the Russians are focusing, and that is the bulk of where their efforts are.”

Suzanne Spaulding described how the election security landscape has changed since 2016 and how federal, state and local elections are working to combat disinformation in elections.

  • On the current election security landscape: “We’ve made significant progress on the cybersecurity front, certainly. I think we’ve also come a long way in our understanding of the potential for disinformation to both potentially disrupt but also delegitimize potentially our elections. And we are clearly a lot smarter about that now than we were. I do continue to worry a lot about that, and particularly in these upcoming elections, I think both the potential for domestic disinformation, but also for an adversary like Putin to see an opportunity to take advantage of very fertile ground that’s been laid to exacerbate mistrust in the legitimacy of the process.”
  • On how election officials are working to combat misinformation ahead of the election: “I think CISA has been very smart, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the Department of Homeland Security, along with the Bureau and others, in pointing to state and local election offices as the best places for authoritative information. I think there’s a little more trust at that level. There’s a lot of mistrust of the federal government and a lot of people who assume that, if some part of the administration is saying it, as apolitical and nonpartisan as they may be, that that is a partisan statement that’s being made.”

In the View from the Top segment, Google’s head of cybersecurity policy Charley Snyder highlighted the rise of cyberattacks targeting civil society actors ranging from journalists to politicians.

  • “One of the most concerning trends for us is the rise of the commercialization of spyware and hacking tools. Now, the most significant hacking tools on the planet are available to organizations that have the money to buy them, rather than the small group of largely governments that have the skill to develop them in-house, which really expands the pool of potential attackers. And we see these tools increasingly put to use to target civil society actors like journalists and activists, campaigns, politicians and dissidents.”

Thank you Google for sponsoring this event.

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