Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Government

DHS Calls Political Campaigns 'Ripe Target' for Cyberattacks

Foreign Adversaries Increasingly See Campaigns as Prime for Hacking, Official Says
DHS Calls Political Campaigns 'Ripe Target' for Cyberattacks
Foreign hackers are targeting U.S. political campaigns, a U.S. federal official warned. (Image: Shutterstock)

Foreign adversaries and cybercriminals are increasingly targeting U.S. political campaigns ahead of the 2024 elections, a top cyber official for the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.

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Iranga Kahangama, DHS assistant secretary for cyber, infrastructure, risk and resilience, said the agency and its federal cyber partners have observed hackers infiltrating campaigns in apparent attempts to sow discord and undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

"We see nation-state actors poking and prodding, scanning specifically within political campaigns," Kahangama said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That's going to be a ripe target - we know that."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in its annual threat assessment warned that the People's Republic of China will likely attempt to influence the U.S. elections in 2024. The report found that China "is demonstrating a higher degree of sophistication in its influence activity" and experimenting with generative AI while increasing its capabilities to conduct covert influence operations.

Foreign adversaries may be further motivated to target political campaigns based on past successes, Kahangama said, including in 2016 when Russian intelligence hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee and leaked nearly 20,000 emails.

DHS has announced a series of measures in recent years aimed at fortifying election infrastructure cybersecurity, from launching a $2 billion preparedness grant program that includes election security initiatives to providing new training and regional support to state and local election officials.

DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency provides regional support to election officials and a variety of publicly accessible resources, such as the cyber defense agency's election cybersecurity toolkit.

Government watchdog reports have criticized the department's election security efforts and called on leadership to publish comprehensive incident response plans. A 2020 Government Accountability Office report found the agency had failed to publish a plan for providing security assistance to political campaigns.

Kahangama said DHS is actively working with information sharing and analysis centers and other key stakeholders to help secure elections systems ahead of the November vote.

"It’s the lowest-hanging fruit that can often be exploited," he said.

About the Author

Chris Riotta

Chris Riotta

Managing Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Riotta is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president. His reporting has appeared in NBC News, Nextgov/FCW, Newsweek Magazine, The Independent and more.

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