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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cybersecurity firm Cybereason will host on Thursday a unique tabletop experiment on election security from its Boston headquarters. Some players will represent a hacker group trying to disrupt the election, while others will play city emergency responders trying to stop it. But these play-hackers won't be allowed to attack the election itself — they will have to disrupt it by disrupting the city, finding ways to keep people from voting.

Why it matters: There are dozens of ways to interfere with an election without touching voting equipment, ranging from causing traffic jams to blasting air conditioning in a polling place on an already cold day. Nearly all of our attention to election security has focused on attacks Russia has already tried or on the most obvious target — the voting machines themselves. But the next wave of attacks won't play by the rulebook we expect bad guys to use.

Tabletop exercises are group games that are sort of like a two-team Dungeons & Dragons — no computers, just paper and brains. It's an interesting scenario to play out in your head. What needs to happen ...

  • Voters need to know where and when to vote. A hacker could conceivably depress voter turnout by uploading false stories about polling place changes or extended hours for polls that plan to close on time.
  • Voters need to get to the polls. Hackers could close a major bridge, preventing people from getting to the polls. They could tie up transportation by informing bus drivers they've been given an extra day off.
  • Voters need to wait in line to cast a vote. False reports of gun violence near polling places or a nearby explosion might reduce the amount of time someone might be willing to wait.

Handicapping the race: These war games split players into a red team of attackers and a blue team of defenders. "I would say the blue team has a fighting chance, but I wouldn’t put it greater than 50%," says Ross Rustici, Cybereason's senior director of intelligence services.

  • The red team has an asymmetric advantage in agility. They get to pick the targets from an endless list of vulnerable systems. And they get to prepare in advance.
  • Defenders have an advantage in terms of nearby and on-the-ground resources from all levels of government, but they are forced to mobilize without preparation or planning. Ed Davis, the former Boston police commissioner known for his leadership during the Boston Marathon bombing, will head up the blue team.
  • "This might be a painful simulation for the blue team," said Rustici, "but if it's painful during the tabletop, they might start coming up with ways to make it less painful in November."

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”