Decision 2020

Connecticut Readies Fight Against Voter Disinformation

NBC Universal, Inc.

In 2016 the Russian government tried to hack into Connecticut’s online voter registration system. They were not successful but the state of Connecticut says it's ready if it happens again. 

“If the Russians want to get into something they can. In the digital age, if it’s digital it can be penetrated,” Art House, a cybersecurity consultant for the state, said.

House said the Russian effort in 2016 wasn’t a very serious effort and they didn’t succeed. 

“We have deployed the Connecticut National Guard, we have a partnership with them. They’re available to every town in the state to make sure their election cybersecurity systems are secure,” Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates said.

But the worry this year isn’t about hacking as much as it is about disinformation about the voting process. 

“The difficulty is with disinformation. Americans tend to be fairly accepting of things that they see online,” House said.

That’s a problem when it comes to conveying facts and information. 

“If we were in a classified setting I could show you the building in St. Petersburg where hundreds of people are working on United States elections right now,” House said.

House said he worries about disinformation about the voting process or false statements made about specific polling places to suppress voting. 

“One thing that the Russians especially are interested in doing is sowing distrust for western democracy and elections of the United States,” House said. 

Bates said they used federal funds to hire a consultant to identify threats, misinformation and disinformation about the voting process. This is the first time the state has contracted for this type of assistance. He is being paid $90 an hour and will work for the state until the end of November. 

“We have an election information security analyst who has background in the military and obviously in cyber, and they’re looking at the dark web and other places where these kind of malicious actors might start spreading false rumors,” Bates said.

Bates said they worry that people might start rumors that polling places might be closed due to COVID-19. 

He said they are partnering with local officials on a “see something, say something” program called Squint. 

“Here in Connecticut we’re actually building partnerships that can take them on because what they see as a weakness, which is our diversity and our differences is a strength because we all love the democratic system here,” Bates said.

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