WASHINGTON – Americans may be the number one threat to their own election cybersecurity heading into the midterms this November and the 2020 presidential election because of their tendency to share tweets and other online posts – many of which are fake, cybersecurity experts said Wednesday.
Experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies presented findings from several studies the center conducted this year. Eighty percent of the cybersecurity experts identified Russia as a top concern for the upcoming elections after its hackers successfully interfered in the 2016 election. Amplification was the primary method for voter suppression, according to Heather Conley, the director of European programs for CSIS.
“They started identifying key voices within these broader groups and they start messaging very divisive issues,” said Conley. “Was that Russian? It was sort of organized by them, but by the end of it, it was amplified by Americans on the views that they have.”
She and others emphasized that Russian hackers interfered in the 2016 election not by changing political beliefs, but by highlighting already existing ones. James Lewis, senior vice president at CSIS, explained that Russians have studied American beliefs to manipulate them online.
“The Russians are good at identifying themes that they know are of interest to Americans and the vulnerabilities of Americans,” said Lewis. “They didn’t invent racism. We did that ourselves, but they know how to exploit it.”
Several measures have been implemented since 2016 to avoid foreign intervention in U.S. elections. About $380 million has been channeled into a fund designed to improve processes for voter registration and tracking. Congress has proposed the Deter Act, which would establish consequences for voter interference. It awaits a Senate vote later this month.
“It’s so critical to understand that Russian malign influence is a continuous and holistic operation. It does not end,” said Conley. “You can’t say after an election, ‘Phew! We got through that!’”