FBI Warns of More Election 'Chaos' in 2024

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FBI Warns of More Election 'Chaos' in 2024

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FBI director Christopher Wray says to have confidence in the American election system but to expect ongoing information warfare, pointing to China as most formidable threat actor.
January 11, 2024
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CYBER SECURITY — New York — The infrastructure in place to defend against efforts to illegally change the outcome of the 2024 election is resilient, but expect chaos leading to Election Day.
That was the message from FBI director Christopher Wray, speaking with Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency, at Fordham University's International Conference on Cyber Security (ICCS).
"Americans can and should have confidence in our election system," Wray said. "The other part, though, is the chaos. And the ability to generate chaos is very much part of the playbook that some of the foreign adversaries engage in. And there is the potential, if we're not all collectively on guard, that chaos can ensue at varying levels."
The chaos Wray referred to will mirror previous election seasons where foreign threat actors used the Internet to spread misinformation with deepfakes and attempted to hack into systems. During every national election since 2018, the number of threat actors and nation-states trying to interfere with US elections has risen, Wray acknowledged. Besides the intensified threat landscape, there are more sophisticated techniques. 
Attempts to interfere with elections using information warfare is nothing new, Wray noted, but what has changed in recent years is the number of countries that have joined the fray. Meanwhile, those with the most interest in doing so — China, Russia, and Iran — are upping their game.
Asked whether Russia has been distracted by the war in Ukraine and therefore putting less effort into interfering with the US election, Wray said the opposite is the case.
"If anything, you could make the argument that their focus on Ukraine has increased their desire to focus on trying to shape how we think about issues, because US policy on Ukraine is something that obviously matters deeply to their utterly unprovoked and outrageous invasion of Ukraine," Wray said.
China is by far the most formidable adversary when it comes to cyber warfare, armed with a larger hacking program than every other major nation combined, according to Wray. Hackers from China have stolen more of Americans' personal and corporate data than actors from every other country put together, he added.
"From a scale perspective, the most sweeping and broad threat to our innovation, our intellectual property, and, in the long run, our economic and national security is the People's Republic of China," Wray said. "And I want to be clear: The Chinese people and Chinese Americans certainly are often the victims of Chinese government overreach by the Chinese Communist Party."
While hackers from China vastly outnumber defenders, Nakasone said the US is better equipped to protect its resources from cyber attackers.
"We're never going to match them quantitatively," he said. "This is not one of our advantages; our advantage is qualitative."
That qualitative advantage is the outgrowth of Wray and Nakasone's working more closely in recent years to enhance collaboration among the two top law enforcement agencies. Closer partnerships among agencies, including Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Homeland Security, state election officials, and private industry, have become "exponentially more sophisticated and effective than they were with each prior election cycle," Wray said. "We are, in that sense, much more on guard than we were in earlier cycles. So the threats are more challenging, but the defense is better. Everybody's raising their game."
In 2020, the NSA launched its Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, designed to bolster the nation's threat detection capabilities and ability to gain insights into what US adversaries are doing.
"That's how we get scale," Nakasone said. 
Rob Joyce, the NSA's director of cybersecurity, emphasized that effort in a separate session at the ICCS conference, noting that the center started up at the beginning of the pandemic with one partner and has grown to 400. 
"The biggest names on the Internet work with us voluntarily," Joyce said. "Why? Because they see business value for themselves and their customers with the information we bring back to them. And we are able to better generate that intelligence because they bring leads to us about the malicious activity they're seeing."
Jeffrey Schwartz, Contributing Writer

Jeffrey Schwartz is a journalist who has covered information security and all forms of business and enterprise IT, including client computing, data center and cloud infrastructure, and application development for more than 30 years. Jeff is a regular contributor to Channel Futures. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and contributed to its sister titles Redmond Channel Partner, Application Development Trends, and Virtualization Review. Earlier, he held editorial roles with CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek, and VARBusiness. Jeff is based in the New York City suburb of Long Island.
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