Server racks

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Government Agencies Prepare to Combat Election Disruptions

| published November 6, 2016 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

According to a government report obtained by NBC News and other media sources, several federal agencies are working in conjunction to block attempts by hackers in Russia from meddling in the upcoming U.S. elections. And with polls now showing the presidential race tightening to within the mathematical margin of error nationwide—and in many key states—security experts are working around the clock to make sure that cyber-disruptions, domestic or foreign, are thwarted before they become an issue on Tuesday.

The report shows that a collaborative effort is underway by six federal agencies—among them the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the Defense Department and the FBI—to prevent Moscow or other outside parties from interfering in Tuesday’s elections, which include both presidential, down-ballot political races, and thousands of amendments and referendums spread out across every state and county.

Worries have heightened that Moscow, though it may not have the ability to directly alter votes, may be seeking to sow discontent and discord by spurring skepticism that Tuesday’s election results are valid, thus undermining the stability of the U.S. political processes. Among the possible scenarios: interruptions to the power grid, which could force computerized voting to shut down; internet slowdowns or outages, which would delay digital traffic and disrupt vote results and reporting; and computer system crashes and shutdowns of key elections offices in important swing states, which would undermine confidence in the Electoral College outcome.

The collaborative work of the various agencies involved includes the full support of the White House, which is placing a high priority on insuring that the election process remains secure and hack-free, thus averting a 2000-style catastrophe in the event of an extremely close vote.

The revelations by NBC News come alongside leaked FBI reports which show that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department have found any solid link between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump, an accusation previously made by some Clinton surrogates and by some political watchdog groups. Trump has in the past shrugged off concerns that recent major hacking incidents—both on government services and in the private sector—have been the work of Russian hackers working at the behest of Putin, and Trump has suggested that there is no more evidence that Moscow is behind the attacks than there is that China or individual hackers are behind the cyber-intrusions.

All six intelligence and security agencies involved in the project are working feverishly and around the clock on two fronts—continuous and intense efforts to thwart cyber-intrusions and digital disruptions at any point on Election Day, in any state, and to deploy rapid responses and employ quick solutions to problems in the event that they occur.

The federal agencies involved in the project—along with dozens of cyber security companies and organizations—worry that the internet and digital disruptions of October 21-22 were a sophisticated dry run for something more serious. Those widespread internet outages—part of a sustained DDoS (distributed denial of service attack) impacted thousands of websites, hundreds of major companies, and disrupted or shut down web access for millions of Americans, especially along the East Coast. Federal security experts speculate that an even larger DDoS attack, beginning during the early morning hours of Election Day, could disrupt infrastructure and sow frustration, inhibiting voters and making collating results difficult. The disruptions could also spark uncertainty and confusion, a goal which some military and political analysts suggest would please Putin very much.

The October 21 DDoS attack began as an assault on Dyn, a New England based firm which handles a large portion of internet traffic for the eastern United States. Dyn’s troubles quickly spilled over into dozens, then hundreds, of other online firms, digital domains and technology services—including Amazon, Spotify, Bing, Comcast, AT&T, and Pay Pal—limiting or severing access to websites and choking internet traffic.

Officials hope that no such attack can gain traction on Election Day, and that voters are able to cast their ballots without interference from hackers or outside parties, foreign or otherwise. Officials also hope to remove doubt in the minds of voters that the results at the end of the day Tuesday are reliable and valid, and represent the choices made by voters from coast to coast.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Podesta was Lured by Time Tested Hacker Trick; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; November 3, 2016.

Schiff: Election Cyber Attacks Result of Russian Hackers; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; October 4, 2016.