FBI, CISA warn against foreign efforts to discredit election results

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said foreign actors may attempt to spread disinformation online concerning when, where and how to vote this November. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI

Sept. 23 (UPI) — With only weeks remaining until the general elections, U.S. federal law enforcement agencies are warning the public that foreign actors may attempt to discredit U.S. democratic institutions by spreading disinformation online about election results.

In a public service announcement on Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said foreign actors and cybercriminals could create or doctor websites and create content for social media platforms to spread false information about election results to discredit the electoral process.

“The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials,” the announcement said. “The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cybercriminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.”

The announcement said that election officials generally require several days to weeks to certify elections results, a timeframe that could potentially be lengthened due to increases in mail-in ballots as more people and states are opting to expand this voting option amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This time between the election and the announcement of certified results could be exploited by foreign actors through disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud and other issues targeting trust in the election process, the federal agencies said.

The announcement does not specify which countries may be involved but it comes a month after the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said it was concerned over ongoing efforts by China, Iran and Russia to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier this month, Microsoft also said it detected in an increase in cyberattacks concerning November’s presidential election from these three countries.

In their Tuesday warning, the FBI and CISA told the public to seek out only trustworthy sources of information, verify information through various reliable sources, rely on government election officials for reports and notify the authorities if they come across potential election crimes, such as disinformation about the manner, time or place of voting.

The FBI is responsible for investigating foreign influence and malicious cyber activity targeting election infrastructure, and CISA is responsible for protecting the United States’ critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats.


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