US Mulls Response to Election Day Cyberattacks: Report

People wait in line and cast their ballots on electronic voting machines on the first day of early voting at the Provo Recreation Center on Oct. 25, 2016, in Provo, Utah. U.S. intelligence officials are concerned Russia may try to launch cyberattacks to meddle in or otherwise disrupt the election. (Getty Images)People wait in line and cast their ballots on electronic voting machines on the first day of early voting at the Provo Recreation Center on Oct. 25, 2016, in Provo, Utah. U.S. intelligence officials are concerned Russia may try to launch cyberattacks to meddle in or otherwise disrupt the election. (Getty Images)

The U.S. is reportedly weighing a response to any Election Day cyberattacks by Russia, according to a news report.

American intelligence agencies are monitoring any number of physical threats to voters and the election process. The terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has called for the “slaughter” of American voters at the polls, while state-actor enemies may try to defeat digital ballot boxes by launching an electromagnetic pulse attack, according to press reports.

But officials are apparently most concerned about cyberattacks from Russia, which has already shown its hacking prowess this election season in an apparent bid to affect the outcome of the presidential race.

That’s based on an NBC News article by Ken Dilanian, William M. Arkin, Cynthia McFadden and Robert Windrem:

U.S. officials continue to express concern that Russia will use its cyber capabilities to try to disrupt next week’s presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials do not expect Russia to attack critical infrastructure — which many believe would be an act of war — but they do anticipate so-called cyber mischief, including the possible release of fake documents and the proliferation of bogus social media accounts designed to spread misinformation.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said she found it “deeply disturbing” that 17 U.S. civilian and defense agencies concluded recent cyberattacks against her campaign and the Democratic National Committee were launched from “the highest levels of the Kremlin” and were “designed to influence our election.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he doesn’t condone the attacks. “I don’t know Putin,” the candidate said, later adding, “This is not my best friend.” But, echoing previous criticism, he slammed Clinton for using a private email system to send classified messages while secretary of state.

If a Russian election cyber attack occurs, the U.S. is ready to respond, as per the NBC report:

U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary, according to a senior intelligence official and top-secret documents.

Of course, doing so would raise the prospect of a counterattack or even full-scale cyber war.

Peter Singer, an author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., in July said the Russians have “set up a wide apparatus” to support information warfare, with “75 different organizations, ranging from university programs to military units.”

Singer said the U.S. should take steps to combat such threats by increasing resilience, raising awareness and rethinking government response.

“We may have to make clear we can data dump back, in ways that pressure them more,” he said. “If they want to mess with our elections, we can release private financial info of a regime leader, family, oligarchs.”

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.