As the 2020 Presidential Election inches closer and the Democratic party candidates work towards the nomination, what are the campaigns doing to ensure effective cybersecurity? According to former CIA Director Michael Morell, not enough. Earlier this year, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed 2020 presidential campaigns about potential cyber threats.1 However, only two campaigns confirmed their attendance.
While spokespeople for most of the campaigns have come out with statements promising their commitment to digital security and fighting against disinformation and cyberattacks, Morell argues they aren’t doing enough to seek outside help. A recently launched non-profit organization as well new information and legislation may help change that.
Why Should Campaigns Take Cyber Security in U.S. Elections Seriously?
The importance of cyber security in U.S. elections has recently become very clear. Both the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterm election saw major failures in cybersecurity. The Russian hack that leaked thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee had an undeniable effect on Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.2 With the state of cyber security in today’s political campaigns, a similar cyber attack may likely happen again.
Progress That’s Being Made to Address Election Cybersecurity Issues
“The 2016 election made it painfully clear that campaigns need more help defending against sophisticated cyber threats. Foreign hackers successfully weaponized hacked emails to drive media coverage in 2016, but the government has done virtually nothing to protect campaigns from future attacks.” – Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)3
Senator Wyden is a leading voice on election cybersecurity issues, and he made this statement when introducing his new bill aimed at making cybersecurity assistance more accessible to state political parties, candidates, and campaigns. While presidential campaigns may still be falling short on cybersecurity, progress is slowly being made.
In 2017, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University published a campaign playbook which provides campaigns with steps to increase cybersecurity. Introduced to the senate by Wyden, the Federal Campaign Cybersecurity Assistance Act would allow for national parties to provide cybersecurity assistance to not only political parties at the state level, but to political candidates and campaigns as well. Earlier this month, former DHS and intelligence leaders launched the U.S. CyberDome group.4
Chaired by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson with Michael Morell, former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. James Clapper, and other prominent intelligence officials on the board, this nonprofit organization aims to provide free cybersecurity protections to campaigns in the 2020 presidential race and future elections to come.
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- Kevin Collier, CNN – Intelligence agencies brief 2020 campaigns on cybersecurity, espionage issues
- Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, Scott Shane, The New York Times – The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.
- Dell Cameron, Gizmodo – New Legislation Would Help National Committees Improve Candidates’ Cybersecurity
- Maggie Miller, The Hill – Former DHS, intelligence leaders launch group to protect presidential campaigns from foreign interference