- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The National Security Agency and Cyber Command have activated their Election Security Group tasked with disrupting foreign cyberattackers aiming to hack or interfere with the upcoming midterm elections, assembling a team to combat threats coming from China, Iran and Russia.

The group uses its foreign signals and intelligence collection capabilities to identify attackers and their intent and then fights against attackers by exposing them publicly, making their financial costs skyrocket, and by deploying other techniques.

“Thousands of people are going to work every day to defend the elections from foreign threats, from generating insights to sharing information to imposing costs by degrading and disrupting foreign adversary activity,” Katrina Cheesman, Election Security Group spokesperson, told The Washington Times in a statement.



Russia remains a major culprit and the Election Security Group traces its roots to a small team formed to fight Russian attackers ahead of the 2018 election. The team expanded its focus to other foreign adversaries for the 2020 election and the cyber threat to elections has emerged as a persistent threat.

The team includes information specialists, planners, and operations specialists that are squarely focused on foreign threats, while leaving related domestic work to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

When the Election Security Group spots a cyberattack it will go on offense against the attacker, while its information provided to the domestic agencies can be used to diminish an attacker’s efforts in the U.S.

NSA and Cyber Command pass information about foreign actors to the FBI and Homeland Security who work with state and local governments as well as tech and social media companies.

The FBI’s work with the tech sector on elections has faced mounting criticism in recent days. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told podcaster Joe Rogan last week that Facebook limited the reach of a negative story involving Hunter Biden before the 2020 election of his father after the FBI warned of Russian propaganda.

The FBI subsequently said it provides foreign threat indicators to tech companies and platforms but does not have the authority to ask or tell the companies to take any action, according to reports.

Meta later sought to downplay Mr. Zuckerberg’s comments in a statement on Twitter saying the FBI shared, “general warnings about foreign interference — nothing specific about Hunter Biden.”

Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Tuesday requesting records about the contacts between the government and Facebook.

Facebook is not the only company that teamed with federal law enforcement and national security agencies before the 2020 election. Tech executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Pinterest, Reddit, Verizon and the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, acknowledged in August 2020 that they met with FBI, the Justice Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency about the coming election.

Following President Biden’s election, the federal government’s close collaboration with private tech companies has grown. The Biden administration formed a Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative to enlist tech companies, including Amazon, Google and Microsoft, to work closer with the government to fight hackers hammering critical infrastructure such as power and water systems and election security.

The NSA and Cyber Command‘s effort on election security is led by Brig. Gen. Victor Macias, deputy commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, and Anna Horrigan, NSA senior executive.

Ms. Horrigan said last week that robust relationships and intelligence exchanges across the public and private sector are necessary for defense.

“We can’t just watch our adversaries — we have to do something about it, whether sharing timely information or taking action against that actor,” she said in a statement published by NSA. “Our nation expects that of us.”

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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