Foreign interference in US elections: Google raises alarm

Google has recently highlighted that its findings indicate a plan for foreign interference into the 2020 US elections. Foreign interference is a widespread and deep issue in the US electoral system, first highlighted in 2016. It has come back to the fore as the US gears for elections in 2020.

Foreign interference in US elections

Campaign staffs for both President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden have been targeted recently by foreign hackers, Google researchers said Thursday, highlighting persistent data security concerns ahead of the November US election.

A tweet from Google’s threat analysis chief Shane Huntley said the internet giant warned the Biden campaign about “phishing” efforts from China and the Trump campaign from Iran.

“No sign of compromise. We sent users our govt attack warning and we referred to fed law enforcement,” Huntley wrote.

Foreign interference in US elections feared once again

The incidents nonetheless highlight fears about a repeat of a devastating data breach in 2016 involving the campaign of Hillary Clinton and a wide-ranging influence operation which officials said was directed from Russia.

Read more: 200 days to go in US elections: Corona contends against Trump

“This is a major disclosure of potential cyber-enabled influence operations, just as we saw in 2016,” Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, said in a tweet.

Brookie said the disclosure “is the cyber-enabled pre-cursor to potential influence operations. It’s a necessary reminder, especially to campaigns.”

Huntley said the incidents should be a reminder to campaigns to take security precautions, including so-called two-factor authentication to verify users.

He also noted that Google is offering free physical security key hardware and other assistance to US presidential and congressional campaigns.

Foreign interference in US elections: previous warnings

Microsoft warned last year that at least one presidential campaign was being targeted by an Iranian state-backed cyber operation. Reports said the effort targeted a Trump campaign staffer.

A group Microsoft dubbed “Phosphorous” tried to identify email accounts of targets that included US officials, journalists covering global politics, prominent Iranians living outside that country and a presidential campaign.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter security teams met last year with FBI, homeland security and intelligence officials to discuss collaboration on election threats.

US Elections: hotbed for foreign interference

According to a report by Business Insider, foreign interference in US Elections is more widespread than Americans think.

The report says that the foreign government that has long been most active in interfering in US politics and US elections is that of Israel. The only reason Israel’s most organized and influential advocates in the United States have not registered as foreign agents is that the influence thus bought has dissuaded US politicians from pushing for such registration.

It added that with Netanyahu in Washington, Trump now will do more of the mutual political back-scratching between a president who is currently the defendant in an impeachment trial and a prime minister who is under indictment in his own country for corruption.

Read more: US accused of interference in upcoming Israeli elections

Partisanship in the United States has impeded in a couple of different ways full and open discussion of the problem of foreign interference in domestic American politics. When both parties have been involved in this interference, neither wants to talk about it.

Elections and election campaigns are not the only vehicles for foreign governments to interfere in American politics and policy. Gulf Arab governments, for example, have attempted to buy influence on American policy debate and thus indirectly on American policy through financial support to some Washington think tanks.

But elections ought to be of the highest concern to Americans because fundamental principles of representative democracy are involved. The results of US elections are supposed to reflect the interests and preferences of the American electorate, not the interests and preferences of foreign regimes.

Foreign interference in those elections has other deleterious effects on US interests. To the extent the Gulf Arabs have exerted influence, this has encouraged a rigid US taking of sides in regional disputes where US interests are not served by such side-taking.

US Presidential Elections 2016: a contentious issue

Cambridge Analytica, a British voter profiling company, which campaigned for US President Donald Trump during the 2016 US Presidential Elections. The British firm used the data obtained from Facebook to target the likely supporters of President Trump during the online election campaign.

Cambridge Analytica claimed that they had the data for 30 million Facebook users out of 2.2 billion users.

Read more: Facebook boosts ad transparency as it braces for US elections

The scandal was so huge, that it sparked an online debate about how social media websites like Facebook and Twitter handle user data. It also inspired a Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’, which covered the scandal in detail.

It was alleged that Russia had interfered in the elections, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley branding the interference in U.S. elections by another nation “warfare,” telling an audience in New York that such meddling has become Russia’s go-to tactic.

“I will tell you that when a country can come interfere in another country’s elections, that is warfare. It really is”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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