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Cyber Command, NSA tout election security group ahead of midterms

U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency officials on Thursday said their joint election security task force is already engaged in keeping the upcoming midterm elections free from foreign interference by adversaries including Iran, China and Russia.

In an article published Thursday, leaders of the Election Security Group (ESG) trumpeted their efforts 75 days ahead of Election Day — though they did not provide specific examples of the group’s work.

The Record reported in May that the two organizations had started the task force — originally established in 2018 by Cyber Command and NSA chief Gen. Paul Nakasone to combat Russian hacking — back up again and named new co-leaders for the group, whose work has rarely been shared with the public, no matter the incarnation.

In recent weeks top national security leaders, including Nakasone, have said they are on alert for foreign interference threats to the 2022 midterms.

“I'm thinking about new and unique ways that an adversary might try to disrupt or try to influence our elections,” Nakasone said last month during a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University in New York.

At the time he said Cyber Command personnel had hunted on over 50 foreign networks across 16 countries since 2018 as part of an effort to defend against foreign interference efforts against the U.S. electoral process or other national security interests.

"In the complex cyberspace domain we operate in, we have to consider both the adversary threat landscape — and the scale of technological advancements," Brig. Gen. Victor Macias, the deputy chief of the Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) and ESG co-lead said in the article. "These adversaries use discrete cyber operations to achieve their strategic objectives, and operate below the threshold of armed conflict. It's our job to disrupt them."

While today’s announcement does not offer concrete examples of safeguards the group has enacted, the task force likely has gleaned insights from several “hunt forward” missions Cyber Command has disclosed in recent months — including month-long deployments to Ukraine, Lithuania as well as Croatia — as Russia carries out its unprovoked invasion against Ukraine.

Any insights from those missions could then be shared with other federal agencies tasked with combating foreign interference operations, such as the Homeland Security Department and the FBI, along with members of the private sector and U.S. allies.

"We are building on previous successes, while also maximizing our strong relationships and synchronizing often, enabling the U.S. to respond rapidly to election threats,” Anna Horrigan, NSA's senior executive and ESG co-led, said in the article.

"We can't just watch our adversaries, we have to do something about it, whether sharing timely information, or taking action against that actor,” she added.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.