Cybersecurity experts have been warning that it isn’t a question of whether or not the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin will try to interfere in the United States’ 2020 election — it’s a question of how successful they will be and the ways in which they will make an attempt. Three security experts (Alex Finley, John Sipher and Asha Rangappa) address this concern in a February 19 article for Just Security, warning that troubling vulnerabilities remain in the United States’ election system.
Last week, the article notes, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee that “Russia’s disinformation campaign to interfere in the 2020 election is underway.”
According to Finley, Sipher and Rangappa, “Ex-KGB officer and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal was never simply to place a Manchurian candidate in the Oval Office, but rather, to permanently destabilize the West, damage U.S. credibility and undermine those very things that make democratic countries special. Putin aimed for chaos, and Donald Trump was the chaos candidate in 2016.”
Putin, the security experts warn, “will continue to attack, namely because his objectives haven’t changed and the United States has not done anything to defend or deter him from this course of action.”
On Russian talk shows, pro-Kremlin pundits have been cheering for Trump and hoping he will be reelected. As they see it, a second Trump term would serve Russian interests.
“We can be confident that the 2020 election cycle will provide the Kremlin opportunities to pursue further subversion, disinformation and deception,” Finley, Sipher and Rangappa assert. “We should expect to see a barrage of disinformation, from fake think tanks, fake media outlets, false social media accounts, false identities, trolls and bots to launder fringe narratives into the mainstream and hijack the public discourse. Lies will target the Democratic nominee — as the corruption conspiracy about former Vice President Joe Biden shows, this step began long ago — as well as seek to divide the Democratic vote.”
Russian disinformation campaigns can make it “difficult to separate fact from fiction and to critically assess information,” according to the three security experts — and on top of that, there is the possibility of Kremlin operatives trying to distort the vote count in the 2020 election.
“Of course, seeking to stoke chaos and outrage is one thing, but physically manipulating vote counts is another altogether,” Finley, Sipher and Rangappa explain. “Today’s antiquated and decentralized voting system is vulnerable, as we learned in 2016. State and local governments run elections, and some have been hesitant to work too closely with the federal government to secure their election systems. Yet they lack the resources and know-how to protect those systems from a state-sponsored attack. Many states are left vulnerable.”