IC: Foreign actors tried to affect U.S. election via influence campaigns, but not by hacking

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The U.S. intelligence community on Tuesday issued a declassified report concluding it has "no indications" that foreign actors attempted to alter technical aspects of the voting process during the 2020 elections.

"We assess that it would be difficult for a foreign actor to manipulate election processes at scale without detection by intelligence collection on the actors themselves, through physical and cyber security monitoring around voting systems across the country," according to the new report compiled by multiple intelligence agencies and published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report draws on the conclusions of a classified document delivered to the White House in January and says Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, undertook a series of actions to both denigrate President Joe Biden and support former President Donald Trump during the 2020 elections. It also states that China largely avoided any targeted meddling in the 2020 elections because it likely did not view either Trump or Biden winning as advantageous to Beijing.

The report notes that there were some number of successful "compromises" of state and local government networks prior to election day as well as a "higher volume" of unsuccessful attempts.

"We judge that Russian cyber operations that targeted and compromised U.S. state and local government networks in 2020 -- including exfiltrating some voter data -- were probably not election-focused and instead part of a broader campaign targeting dozens of U.S. and global entities," according to the report.

However unlike in 2016, the IC did not observe "persistent Russian cyber efforts" to compromise election infrastructure.

Other disruptions targeting the elections were mostly done by criminals motivated by profit, rather than nation states. A ransomware attack in late October targeted a New York county by demanding payment after encrypting 300 computers and 22 servers using the Ragnarok malware. Hackers in November promoting "Turkish nationalist themes" breached and defaced a candidate's website.

The IC report said that actors such as Hezbollah, Cuba and Venezuela also took efforts at a smaller scale to disrupt the election cycle.

About the Author

Justin Katz covers cybersecurity for FCW. Previously he covered the Navy and Marine Corps for Inside Defense, focusing on weapons, vehicle acquisition and congressional oversight of the Pentagon. Prior to reporting for Inside Defense, Katz covered community news in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. Connect with him on Twitter at @JustinSKatz.


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