2020 elections, unsecure; Russians nearly ram US cruiser; Cities under cyber siege; More border tensions; And a bit more.

We’re 18 months from the next U.S. presidential election, and America still has weak voting infrastructure “and a lack of political will and funding to strengthen them,” WIRED reported this morning.

What you need to know: “Many of those inadequacies show up in a new report from the Stanford Cyber Policy Center, which breaks down the threats facing the 2020 election and beyond, and proposes paths to managing them. But as the report also makes clear, many of those necessary steps will not be completed before 2020.”

What we learned from this report: “three states—Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina—still use digital voting systems exclusively without a paper backup. And at least 10 states have mixed offerings, in which many precincts don’t produce a paper trail.” What’s more, “Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has consistently made it clear that he does not support passage of election security legislation.”

DARPA is getting in on the action, too, with a “secure, open source voting machine hardware” that “could pave the way for more open, auditable, and publicly verifiable voting machines for everyone.”

Oh, and in case you missed it this week (because we did): “A Florida election software company targeted by Russians in 2016 inadvertently opened a potential pathway for hackers to tamper with voter records in North Carolina on the eve of the presidential election,” Politico reported Wednesday.

How could that have opened a pathway for hackers? By using “remote-access software to connect for several hours to a central computer in Durham County, N.C., to troubleshoot problems with the company’s voter list management tool,” which is a process that “can open a door for intruders but because they can also give attackers access to an entire network, depending on how they’re configured.” Much more to Politico’s report, here.

One hugely needed step now, according to that Stanford report: “The need to forge international norms discouraging hacking and digital meddling in foreign elections,” WIRED writes. Read on, here.

ICYMI: Read the Justice Department’s 448-page report on Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election.

In other cyber news this week,U.S. Cities Strain to Fight Hackers,” the Wall Street Journal reminds us — using the ongoing “electronic siege” of Baltimore as a jumping-off point.

The essence of the problem: “Ransomware is a pandemic in the United States,” said Joel DeCapua, supervisory special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s cyber division.

Startling stat: “Coveware, a firm that helps hacking victims, found through a survey of its clients that average ransoms grew by 89% to $12,762 in the first quarter of this year, compared with the fourth quarter, propelled in part by a rising ransomware variant called Ryuk.”

And that number could be higher since “most ransomware attacks aren’t publicly reported.”

Another disturbing stat: “40% of victims that paid a ransom didn’t get their data back,” according to a 2018 global survey by CyberEdge.

Send us your thoughts: What are your concerns when it comes to cybersecurity today? Why we ask: We’re producing an upcoming Defense One Radio podcast on All Things Cyber in the coming days, and would love to get your thoughts as we wrap it up. So drop us a line at this address, and stay tuned…


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Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1863, the French army entered Mexico City — and captured it three days later — while the U.S. was fighting a civil war. And because the moment is quickly passing, don’t miss these colorized photos from June 6, 1944, from the invasion of Normandy, via the very talented colorizer Marina Amaral.


Russian warship nearly rams U.S. cruiser. Photos and video released by the U.S. Navy show a Russian destroyer coming within “50 to 100 feet” of the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville in the Philippine Sea on Friday morning local time. On the high seas, that is heart-attack-inducingly close.
How it happened, according to U.S. officials: The captain of the Udaloy I, a destroyer of about 7,000 tons’ displacement, waited until the 9,600-ton American cruiser was sailing straight ahead so that its helicopter could land on the flight deck. Then the Russian “maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet.  This unsafe action forced USS Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.”
Navy officials denounced the Russian actions as “unsafe and unprofessional and not in accordance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), ‘Rules of the Road,’ and internationally recognized maritime customs.”
Dept of “Sailors will be sailors”: At least one Russian apparently sunbathed through the incident. Video, here.

Lots of action to round up concerning U.S.-Mexico border tensions. Perhaps most notably, Reuters reports “the Mexican government had offered to send 6,000 members of the National Guard to secure its southern border with Guatemala,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced Thursday.
“Ebrard spent several hours at the State Department Thursday morning, while Trump’s legal counsel and other Mexican aides met at the White House Thursday afternoon,” the Associated Press reports in its summary of where things stand today.
What’s more, Mexico this week “moved to block and detain mostly Central American migrants crossing its own southern border headed for the United States,” Reuters writes. “It also acted to block the bank accounts of more than two dozen people allegedly linked to human trafficking.”
Also under discussion: a deal that would see Mexico “deploy up to 6,000 national guard troops [by September] to the area of the country’s border with Guatemala, a show of force they say will immediately reduce the number of Central Americans heading north toward the U.S. border,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The deal could amount to “a sweeping overhaul of asylum rules across the region,” the Post writes. How? It “would require Central American migrants to seek refuge in the first country they enter after leaving their homeland, the two officials said. For Guatemalans, that would be Mexico. For migrants from Honduras and El Salvador, that would be Guatemala.”
And for the record: “Last month, U.S. authorities made more than 144,000 arrests along the southern border, the highest monthly total in 13 years,” the Post reminds us. More specifically, via AP, those May numbers came to “132,887 apprehensions, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together and 11,507 children traveling alone.”
Meanwhile, “Republicans in Congress have warned the White House that they are ready to stand up to the president to try to block his tariffs [on Mexican imports], which they worry would spike costs to U.S. consumers, harm the economy and imperil a major pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal,” AP adds. Read on, here.

The latest in the U.S.-Iran showdown: On Thursday, “a U.S. defense official has provided ABC News with new details about the intelligence that drove the Trump administration’s” decision to send B-52s and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East on an expedited timeline.=
Those new details? More of a guess, really; but an educated one. To wit: “there was no plausible reason to load the cruise missiles onto small civilian boats except to have them ready for offensive purposes,” the defense official told ABC’s Luiz Martinez.
Why it’s newsworthy: It runs “counter to the claim made to ABC News on Sunday by Iran’s top diplomat [Foreign Minister Javad Zarif] about why the missiles had been put on small boats called dhows.”
Said Zarif on Sunday: “We have the right to put whatever missiles we want to put on them… putting missiles on our boats is different from blowing up a ship.”
The U.S. defense official also painted a larger picture of what allegedly happened on those boats: “The missiles were housed in box-type launchers placed on the dhows, an indication that the missiles were intended to be fired from the dhows, said the defense official. U.S. intelligence tracked the two dhows as they sailed 200 miles eastward through Iranian territorial waters towards the port of Chabahar. Throughout that trip, the official said, the launchers had been covered to avoid their being detected. Because of those factors, U.S. intelligence assessed that the placement of the missiles aboard civilian vessels meant they were intended for offensive purposes and immediate use.”
What happened next: “the missiles were unloaded in Chabahar about 10 days after the U.S. announced that the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 bombers had been dispatched to the region to deter the new Iranian security threat.”
What happens now in the showdown? U.S. and Iranian officials try not to be the first to blink. More from ABC, here.
Said CENTCOM’s Gen. Frank McKenzie to NBC News on Thursday: “I think the threat [from Iran] is imminent.”
Noted NBC’s Courtney Kube: “McKenzie declined to go into specifics on the nature of the threats.” More from AP’s Bob Burns, here.

Это место токсично, да? Without any sort of warning labels, 14 different channels of Russian disinformation on YouTube have generated millions of dollars in profits, Reuters reports today off “previously unpublished research by Omelas, a Washington-based firm that tracks online extremism for defense contractors.”
One of the problems with this fact: The lack of any warning runs “contrary to the world’s most popular streaming service’s policy.”
What kind of disinformation? “The channels, including news outlets NTV and Russia-24, carried false reports ranging from a U.S. politician covering up a human organ harvesting ring to the economic collapse of Scandinavian countries.”
One bigger problem amid all this: The Russian videos generate a nice chunk of change for Google, with Omelas calculating somewhere between $6 million to $26 million in added revenue for YouTube. Read on, here.

This week in strange robot news, “There’s now a subreddit that’s populated entirely by neural nets who are themselves simulating other subreddits,” optics researcher Janelle Shane pointed out on Twitter Wednesday. “They’re sometimes kind to each other, sometimes awful, and they keep trying to ban each other’s posts,” she added. Experience the strangeness for yourself, here.

The innocence of children, interrupted. “In a camp in war-ravaged Central African Republic, children draw as a form of therapy” for what’s increasingly being recognized as PTSD, Agence France Presse reports today from the city of Kaga Bandoro. There at Lazare camp, the children “draw armed men. Armoured vehicles. And they use red. Lots of red.”
What’s going on: “The town of Kaga Bandoro housing the camp is a case study for the instability and violence that plagues the CAR,” AFP writes. “The town lies on a strategic junction of routes used by nomadic cattle-herders. For five relentless years, Kaga Bandoro was in the hands of armed groups — militias who control four-fifths of the troubled country… Many children have seen beatings, rape or murder. Some have seen their homes invaded, their parents humiliated, hurt, abducted or killed.”
Read on for a significant amount of heartbreak, a little uplift, and a half-dozen photos of the children and their drawings, here.
Also in photographs: AFP’s pictures of the week — from Guatemala to Normandy, Indonesia to President Trump stepping off Air Force One to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day — find them all here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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