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The Cybersecurity 202: The White House tried to silence the government’s election security leaders. It didn’t’ work.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 12/2/2020 Joseph Marks

with Tonya Riley

If White House officials thought they could silence criticism of the president’s baseless election fraud claims by firing the government's top cybersecurity officials, they were sorely mistaken. 

Christopher Krebs reasserted there’s no evidence the election was undermined by hacking in a Washington Post op-ed last night and knocked back some of the same phony claims that got him fired by presidential tweet two weeks ago as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

The 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history. This success should be celebrated by all Americans, not undermined in the service of a profoundly un-American goal,” he wrote. 

Krebs will be speaking with David Ignatius in a Washington Post Live event at 11 a.m. today. 

Krebs’s deputy Matthew Travis, who was ousted at the same time, also slammed the Trump campaign's election fraud claims during an address at the Aspen Institute’s Cyber Summit

“What we were hearing from the Trump campaign was in effect politicizing the security of a sub-sector of infrastructure, namely the election system,” he said. 

President Trump’s fraud claims, meanwhile, are falling flat both in courtrooms and increasingly among Republicans

The hardest blow to date came yesterday when Attorney General William P. Barr declared he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” effectively withdrawing support from Trump’s efforts to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. 

Barr had previously joined Trump in spreading unfounded claims of potential fraud before the election, including the false claim that mail ballots could easily be forged by foreign powers. 

The shift reflects the slow but increasingly sure vindication of election officials’ hard work to ensure a secure and transparent election process over the president’s insistent disinformation campaign

a man wearing a suit and tie: President Trump fired Christopher Krebs, who headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) © Jonathan Ernst/Reuters President Trump fired Christopher Krebs, who headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) at the Department of Homeland Security. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump and his remaining allies, however, are still promoting their baseless claims. 

His legal team responded to Barr’s statement, saying, “His opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.”

Current and former officials are also pushing back against threats of violence, including death threats, targeting election officials.

Krebs told NBC’s Today Show that he may take legal action against Joe DiGenova, an attorney for Trump’s campaign who made violent threats against him during a Monday night TV interview. Among other claims, DiGenova said Krebs should be “drawn and quartered” for defending the integrity of the election.

“It’s certainly more dangerous language, more dangerous behavior…I’ve got an exceptional team of lawyers that win in court and I think they’re probably going to be busy,” Krebs said. 

In his op-ed, Krebs said, “I am not going to be intimidated by these threats from telling the truth to the American people.”

During his Aspen speech, Travis called DiGenova “a small man with a small mind and a bad mustache.”

a man wearing a suit and tie: Trump campaign attorney Joe diGenova on Fox News. © Screengrab via Fox News/Fox News Trump campaign attorney Joe diGenova on Fox News.

Election officials across the country are also facing death threats, many from people who accuse them of being part of wild conspiracies with no basis in reality touted by Trump and his allies. 

Gabriel Sterling, an election official in Georgia, where the election process has come under intense attack, gave a passionate speech yesterday denouncing those threats and people who propagate them. “Someone’s gonna get shot. Someone’s gonna get killed," he warned.

Sterling took Trump on directly

“Mr. President, you have not condemned this language or these actions…Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” he said. 

“The episode revealed a fissure that has been widening within the Republican Party for weeks as Trump has claimed falsely, again and again, that President-elect Joe Biden won through election fraud,” my colleagues Amy Gardner and Keith Newell report

Here's video from Nicole Carr with Atlanta’s ABC affiliate:

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) have defended the integrity of their state’s election, which delivered a narrow win to Biden. 

A hand audit of all Georgia’s approximately 5 million votes and a review of voting machines there found no evidence of fraud or computer hacking. Another audit is scheduled to conclude this week. 

Matthew Masterson, CISA’s senior cybersecurity adviser, echoed Sterling’s warnings on Twitter. “I have heard these same concerns from many election officials. It must stop!” he wrote.

Yet some Republicans are still hedging.

A representative for Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who’s defending his seat in a Jan. 5 runoff, responded to Sterling’s plea by saying he “condemns violence of any kind” but “won’t apologize for addressing the obvious issues with the way our state conducts its elections.”  

Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) have both called for Raffensperger to resign, citing “mismanagement and lack of transparency,” but they haven’t specifically described what he did wrong. 

Here’s more on the threats of violence from former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who runs the Lawfare blog: 

From David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research:

Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:

And from David Levine, elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy:

The keys

Trump allies are turning to the Supreme Court in a last-ditch bid to block Biden's win.

Republican allies asked the high court to block a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissing a challenge to the state's mail-in voting system, Robert Barnes and Elise Viebeck report

They want the state to invalidate more than 2.5 million votes cast by mail. The Pennsylvania court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked due diligence and waited until after the election to file their complaint.

The Trump campaign also filed a lawsuit to overturn election results in Wisconsin, Rosalind S. Helderman reports. The campaign is seeking to invalidate 220,000 votes there. James Troupis, a lawyer for the campaign, acknowledged it's unlikely the suit will change the election results but said the case would expose how the election processes were abused in Wisconsin.

The State Department will give cash rewards for tips on North Korea's cyber operations.

Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il are posing for a picture: North Korean and Chinese national flags on a street in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Jon Chol Jin/AP) © Jon Chol Jin/AP North Korean and Chinese national flags on a street in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Jon Chol Jin/AP)

They're offering $5 million in rewards for tips about North Korean hacking for profit and other efforts to evade sanctions and fund the rogue nation's nuclear weapons program, Carol Morello reports

The Treasury Department has accused North Korea of more than $1 billion in hacking thefts.

The United States also plans to inflict greater penalties on Chinese actors that have become key to facilitating Korea's illicit economic operations, Alex Wong, the State Department’s deputy envoy for North Korea, said in a virtual speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  

The sanctions evading system relies heavily on Chinese middlemen, bank accounts and money launderers, he said. “We’ve imposed numerous such sanctions designations in the past,” Wong said. “And more are forthcoming.

Trump's threatening to veto a national defense spending bill unless Congress takes a whack at social media companies.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a flag: President Donald Trump delivers an update on “Operation Warp Speed.” (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) © Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images President Donald Trump delivers an update on “Operation Warp Speed.” (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

He threatened in a set of tweets to veto the annual defense bill unless Congress repeals a federal law granting Internet platforms immunity from legal liability over content posted by users, Tony Romm reports

Congress has yet to release final National Defense Authorization Act, but versions from both the House and Senate contain dozens of cybersecurity policy recommendations. A veto of the bill would imperil hundreds of millions of dollars for cybersecurity investments.

Trump has aggressively attacked the decades-old law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for protecting Silicon Valley's alleged bias against conservatives.

National Security Watch

North Korean hackers are targeting Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine research.

Kim Jong-un et al. wearing military uniforms: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a military parade. (Photo by -/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images) © -/AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a military parade. (Photo by -/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images)

The hackers are also targeting Maryland-based Novavax and at least three South Korean companies with Covid-19 drugs in earlier clinical trials in an effort to steal sensitive information they can sell or weaponize, Andrew Jeong reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Reuters previously reported that North Korean hackers were targeting the United Kingdom based coronavirus vaccine maker AstraZeneca. 

Global Cyberspace

Security researchers say 25 countries could be secretly using mobile spyware to intercept calls and track users’ locations.

The Australian flag flies outside the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg News) © Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg The Australian flag flies outside the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). (Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg News)

The countries include Belgium, Mexico, Thailand and Australia, researchers at the digital rights watchdog Citizen Lab say, Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Joseph Cox at Motherboard report

They’re using technology from a company called Circles that relies on a vulnerability in mobile phone protocols. Advanced versions of the tool allow nations’ spy agencies or law enforcement to track users outside their borders.

In 2014 Circles merged with controversial spyware company NSO, which has been associated with governments that spy on human rights activists and dissidents. An NSO representative said both NSO and Circles lead their industries in a commitment to ethical business and adhere to strict laws and regulations in every market in which they operate.

More cybersecurity news:

To boost voter-fraud claims, Trump advocate Sidney Powell turns to unusual source: The longtime operator of QAnon’s Internet home (Drew Harwell)

Thousands of U.S. electronic patient records spilled online (TechCrunch)

Philly hunger relief group Philabundance lost nearly $1 million in cyberattack (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

China drafts rules on mobile apps' collection of personal data (Reuters)

Manchester United attack illuminates the hacking threats against UK sports sector (CyberScoop)

Daybook

  • Washington Post Live will host a conversation with former CISA director Christopher Krebs today at 11 a.m.
  • CSIS will hold an online event “The Perfect Weapon”: Cyber Policy and the Incoming Biden Administration" today at 12:30pm
  • The Institute for Security and Technology is hosting a discussion, “Biden Administration Cyber Agenda,” today at 2:30 p.m.
  • The Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs federal spending oversight subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Defending Our Communities from Cyber Threats amid covid-19” today at 2:30 p.m.
  • MIT Technology Reviews CyberSecure conference will take place Dec. 2-3.
  • The Atlantic Council will hold an event on the incoming U.S. administration and the future of supply chains in the Americas on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m.

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