Only YOU can prevent election fires



A Smokey Bear campaign for elections.

The head of the United States’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is trying to find a way to get you to pay attention to election security.


A CISA Protect 2020 sticker for elections security

A “Protect 2020” sticker handed out by CISA at the 2019 RSA conference in San Francisco. Image: Archer News


With other countries eager to trick you and change your vote, the agency’s director, Christopher Krebs, wants you to think before you ‘like.’

“What do we need to do is to help users — consumers of media and social media — to think more critically about information that’s being presented to them, rather than just clicking and liking and sending them along,” Krebs said at the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco today.

That’s how Russia tried to influence the U.S.’s 2016 elections, according to intelligence agencies — with social media trickery targeting you and your psychological profile.

And that’s how Russia and other countries will try again in 2020, according to Krebs.

It’s not just hacking your vote, it’s hacking your brain before you vote.

“We need to make sure we’re giving the American people an understanding — and raise the awareness — of how the bad guys out there are trying to influence them,” said Krebs.


CISA is contemplating a Smokey Bear-style campaign for elections security, according to Krebs. Image: kathrynlerro


Stopping a Hack

Voter awareness campaigns used to encourage people to learn about issues and candidates — and then vote.

Now, it’s protecting the vote itself.

Krebs asked the cybersecurity professionals at the RSA conference to “preach, plan and participate” in the next elections.

The agency is working to prevent hackers from breaking in to computer systems and changing the votes cast.

“Engage your election officials. Let them know you’re there to help,” he told the audience at the Moscone Center. “It’s not just pointing out what’s wrong. It’s helping them understand and get through the challenges they face.”

“Whether you volunteer or just vote, engage in the process,” he added.


A touchscreen voting machine. Image: iStock


Hacking Your Mind

The Department of Justice said in a February 2018 indictment that a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency impersonated real Americans — and created fake personas as well — to play up divisive social and political issues and interfere with U.S. elections.

Members of the group used names on social like “Army of Jesus,” “Heart of Texas,” “Blacktivist,” and “United Muslims of America” to amass thousands of followers, according to the indictment.

More than 100,000 people followed the Internet Research Agency’s fake “Tennessee GOP” Twitter account, the document said.

Messages attacking candidates and either encouraging or discouraging voting followed.

“…[W]e’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL,” read one of the messages aimed at minority voters.

The building in St. Petersburg reported to be an operations site for the Internet Research Agency. Image: Google Maps



The goal was to spread “distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general” in 2016, the indictment said.

It’s not just Russia, Krebs said.

Other countries like China want to influence you, too.

And campaigns in the U.S. may try the same tactics.

What to do?

The Brookings Institute offers these three strategies:

—When you view social media, analyze for bias and motive.

“Posting on social media has an objective—whether it’s to share personal news, obtain a ‘like’ on a picture of a life milestone, attend an event, or to vote on election day. Understand the motive behind the posts you read,” Lisa Kaplan wrote in a January post.

—Learn how platforms can tailor information for you and your psychological profile.

“The social media platforms determine the content each user sees based upon a complex algorithm that factors in which users, pages, and content the user engages. Understand how these work for the platforms you access,” she said.

 Use social media responsibly.

“If a user shares a falsehood, be it a meme, a video, or an article, he or she is contributing to the information flow of false news. In this vein, users can help stop the spread of disinformation by reading critically and not engaging with knowingly false information,” Kaplan said.


A ballot drop site in Portland, Oregon. Image: Archer News


“Collective Defense”

DHS is working with 14,000 local jurisdictions on protecting the cybersecurity of elections infrastructure, Krebs said.

The agency provides advisors, assessments, information sharing and incident response for elections security, according to its web site.

States are replacing old voting machines, bringing cybersecurity experts and doing vote audits, but some local elections officials say they don’t have the budget to buy the machines they need, reported Time today.

Krebs hopes the private security community will assist not with money, but with expertise.

“We need to work together. We have to work together,” he said. “Do one thing. Protect 2020.”

And don’t be surprised if Smokey the Elections Bear pays you a visit.


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