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Playing offense and defense in the face of cybersecurity threats

In the past 48 hours, findings have been released regarding attempts by hackers to influence the midterm elections. Now, the Democratic National Committee has reportedly asked the FBI to investigate an attempt to infiltrate its voter database. Nick Schifrin joins Amna Nawaz to discuss what groups might be responsible for hacking and what preventive measures are being deployed.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The hacking of the 2016 elections by the Russians came as something of a surprise to many politicians, voters and the tech industry itself, which was clearly behind and lacking in its initial response.

    But now tech giants, senators and political campaigns are sounding the alarm about the way foreign actors and governments are spreading lies and misinformation again.

    And as Amna Nawaz tells us, some of these efforts are aimed at the midterm elections this year, less than three months from now.

    It's the focus of this week's segment about the Leading Edge of technology.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There have been a series of findings on this front in just the past 48 hours.

    The very latest? The Democratic National Committee has reportedly asked the FBI to investigate an attempt to hack its voter database.

    Let's break all of this down, starting with our own Nick Schifrin.

    So, Nick, the DNC hack, what do we know?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The database had tens of millions of people in it, the hack or attempted hack was by an unknown third party and that it was unsuccessful.

    The DNC used the attempted hack to point out that it wanted more help, more security help from the Trump administration. That goes to two points.

    One, the DNC and others have criticized the administration for not providing enough security ahead of the midterm elections, and, two, that the hacking and intelligence operations, some of which we saw in 2016, have not stopped. They're ongoing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And often, when we talk about them, we talk about them in relation to Russian efforts.

    But, last night, Facebook announced they shut down hundreds of fake accounts, these originating from Iran. What do we know about those?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right, so it was two, one — some from Iran and some from Russia. And the ones from Russia were the same actors we saw in 2016, connected to Russian military intelligence. And they were trying influence operations in Syria and Ukraine, two countries that Russia has intervened militarily.

    But the big ones — you're right — were Iran — 652 pages, groups and accounts posing as news and civil society organizations that were actually front for Iranian hackers, Iranian groups and Iranian state media.

    And like in 2000, what was the goal? The goal was to sow discord and to influence people's opinions toward what Iran wants them to feel. And it was at not only the U.S., but people in the Middle East, the U.K. and Latin America.

    And there are a few examples that I should highlight. A group calling itself the Progressive Front posted a fake photo of Michelle Obama with the sign "An immigrant took my job," an apparent reference to Melania Trump.

    A group calling itself Berniecrats connecting Bernie Sanders to policy on Gaza. And a fake movie poster, Nukebook, instead of notebook, showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un embracing President Trump, the suggestion there apparently, while President Trump was willing to talk about North Korean nuclear weapons, he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

    And what cyber-security experts I talked to said today is that bad actors, in this case, Iran, learn from other bad actors. So these are attempts that mimic the successful attempts that Russia had in 2016.

    And Facebook says, look, we're trying our best. We're improving security.

    But on a call last night, they said, this is like finding needles in a haystack. And CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, we are trying to improve security every day.

  • Mark Zuckerberg:

    Security is not something that you ever fully solve. Our adversaries are sophisticated and well-funded. And we have to constantly keep improving to stay ahead.

    But the shift we have made, from reactive to proactive detection, is a big change. And it's going to make Facebook safer for everyone over time.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Facebook is obviously struggling with this. Our own government is struggling with this.

    What do we know about that? What are we doing as a country, not just to stop the behavior, but defend against the attempts too?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, there's some defense, right?

    The Trump administration says it is trying to improve election security. But there's also offense, especially when it comes to Russia. The Trump administration has imposed nearly 500 sanctions on Russian people and Russian entities.

    Yesterday, there were new sanctions. And, in total, experts say that, look, yes, this is having some effect, but the sanctions aren't strong enough to cripple the Russian economy. And so, therefore, the Russian economy will muddle along.

    And so far, there's no disunity around Vladimir Putin. And so, therefore, these sanctions are not changing Russian behavior, and, therefore, the Russian influence operations will continue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nick Schifrin, good to talk.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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