With midterm elections less than four months away, there’s more than a little concern growing about what may come before the first ballot boxes creak open. Sure, there are a few major topics that are driving the conversation leading into November. Sure, we still don’t know how much the “Big Lie” will spur voters one way or the other, or whether election officials who believe in that conspiracy will attempt to disrupt the will of the people.
There is one thing officials are saying with relative certainty: countries like Russia are coming back in for another round of election meddling, likely including online disinformation campaigns that have proved effective in the past, according to recent interviews with U.S. officials.
Federal law enforcement and military officials have said they’re concerned about a new wave of cyber attacks and social influence operations descending on upcoming elections. During a Tuesday International Conference on Cyber Security, officials from the National Security Agency and FBI said Russia-linked groups will turn their attention away from Ukraine and toward the U.S.’ November elections.
When asked whether they’ll be too focused on Ukraine to pay attention to old uncle sam, FBI Director Christopher Wray said “we’re quite confident the Russians can walk and chew gum,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Russia’s drive to meddle in U.S. elections is practically a certain at this point. During the 2020 election season, an influence campaign backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin amplified stories like the Hunter Biden laptop debacle and amplified right-wing conspiracies of voter fraud, according to an official report. That fake news of false votes was a football that former President Donald Trump would take and run all the way to the end zone with on Jan. 6, 2021.
A March report from the U.S. intelligence community has already considered that Russia would “almost certainly” try to influence the midterms, including potentially trying to “strengthen ties to U.S. persons in the media and politics in hopes of developing vectors for future influence operations.”
Wray also reportedly pointed to Iranian alleged cyber criminals that the Department of Justice charged with a disinformation campaign to meddle with the 2020 elections. Feds said the pair of alleged hackers stole U.S. voter information and disseminated videos full of election disinformation. Thanks to a trove of data accidentally left open on the internet back in 2020, we already have a pretty good idea what kind of tactics those hackers were apparently using, which included phishing attempts of both American civilians and officials and attempted cracks of private and government websites.
Now agencies like the FBI and Cyber Command are in “combat tempo,” Wray said, according to CyberScoop. The NSA and Cyber Command are already at the heads of a team meant to combat election meddling that’s been brought back to try and protect the 2022 midterms.
Bloomberg reported that General Paul Nakasone, who runs both the NSA and Cyber Command, said they were going “full-bore against foreign interference and influence in our elections.” And during the cyber security conference, the NSA director said he was concerned if ransomware could disrupt the midterms, and that the U.S. was already conducting a “series of operations.”
The U.S. has turned to social media companies to try and fight back against misinformation. However, recent reports show that Facebook’s parent company Meta is putting much less resources into its elections issues team. Facebook, for their part, claims they still have “hundreds of people across more than 40 teams focused on this work.”
Russian hackers have already targeted U.S. defense contractors, going back to early 2020, according to official alerts. They used a variety of hacking tactics, including phishing, credential harvesting, and other brute force attacks. Back when Russia first invaded Ukraine, a brutal war that has raged for over five months, the U.S. publicly claimed it was resisting open calls for a full on cyber war with the Kremlin.
According to a declassified intelligence document, Russia and Iran both did not go as far as to actually meddle in any tangible way with the 2020 election’s infrastructure, instead focusing on “denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party” while getting their prized horse (AKA Trump) elected.