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The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

Maricopa officials punch back against Arizona's partisan election audit

The Cybersecurity 202

A newsletter briefing on cybersecurity news and policy.

Welcome to The Cybersecurity 202! Today marks one year since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building. 

If you're on the Hill today, check out The Post's investigative series “The Attack: Before, During and After” in 2,700 copies of the print newspaper that are delivered daily to offices. The 28-page special section provides readers with the complete three-part series detailing the forces that led to the insurrection and the growing distrust in America’s elections. Or, you can read “The Attack” on The Post’s website and across Post platforms: wapo.st/theattack

Below: The Jan. 6 attack raised major questions about Congress's cybersecurity, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell was subpoenaed by the committee investigating it.

Maricopa County has 93 pages of pushback to that partisan election audit

Officials in Maricopa County, Az. have delivered a stinging rebuke to the partisan audit that state Republicans forced on their 2020 election results.

That lighning-rod audit – conducted by outside firm Cyber Ninjas – found no evidence of substantial election irregularities but raised myriad concerns about the county’s election processes. Yet Maricopa’s election office, in a 93-page rebuttal issued yesterday afternoon, describes those concerns as nearly universally based on “faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions, and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws.”

“The people who have spent the last year proclaiming our free and fair elections are rigged are lying or delusional. Unfortunately, the Senate's inquiry made things worse by giving partisan auditors a platform to make damaging false claims based on their inexperience and biases,” the board’s newly appointed chairman Bill Gates (R) said. 

The background

Over the past year, the Maricopa County audit has stood as a prime example of Republicans sowing mistrust in the election process despite no substantial evidence of fraud.

It was imposed by GOP state government backers of former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims that Biden’s narrow win in Arizona and other battlegrounds states was illegitimate. It came after Maricopa County’s own extensive audits had found no evidence of fraud and was performed by a firm which has no auditing experience and a history of embracing Trump-backed conspiracy theories. 

The Maricopa County Commission is controlled by Republicans but has nevertheless consistently opposed the audit, which commissioners say was politically motivated, incompetently conducted and designed to stoke misguided and malicious doubts about the integrity of the democratic process, as Rosalind Helderman reports.  

The rebuttal

Yesterday's response to the audit marks the most extensive and technical rebuttal to date of the make-it-up-as-you-go election reviews embraced by Trump and his allies, which have been pushed in numerous battleground states and buoyed by conspiracy theories. 

Claims of election fraud can be dangerous, Gates said at a county board meeting, linking the Maricopa audit to the Capitol attack launched by Trump supporters.

“We have seen how people react when they think that an election has been stolen. They storm the U.S. Capitol. They threaten to kill and hang and shoot election workers. And they called other Americans traitors,” he said.

The county report is a point-by-point refutation of allegations in the Cyber Ninjas audit

The tally:

  • The report cites 22 Cyber Ninjas claims it describes as “misleading”
  • Forty-one that were “inaccurate”
  • Thirteen that were “demonstrably false”
  • It also outlines faulty claims and analysis affecting more than 53,000 ballots

A case in point: Cyber Ninjas cited more than 23,000 mail ballots submitted by voters who might have moved before the election, a claim embraced by Trump and his supporters. County officials, however, said they identified all the voters and determined none had voted illegally. 

How’d that happen?: Much of the Cyber Ninjas analysis was based on commercial records that matched voters’ first and last names and years of birth, not accounting for the fact that among Maricopa’s 2.6 million registered voters there may be numerous John Smiths and Maria Garcias, Scott Jarrett, the county's director of elections, told commissioners during a hearing to review the county report. 

“This audit is being held up as an example for other states to use for post-election audits and this is why it’s important to highlight these issues,” Jarrett told commissioners. 

But the Maricopa County report’s brand of careful analysis isn’t winning the day.

Similarly partisan audits are underway in Texas and Wisconsin and are being pushed in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. 

The root of the problem: Election procedures are generally highly complex and technical — not well understood by average citizens. That results in a system with lots of checks to ensure ballots are collected and counted accurately but also a system that’s easy to portray as shady and corrupted by misrepresenting or misunderstanding the fine details. 

The system also isn’t perfect. Maricopa County’s own analysis found about 90 ballots that might have been cast illegally or double counted, some of which are still under investigation. That’s not ideal, but it accounts for about 1 out of every 21,000 ballots cast in the county — a figure officials called “the very definition of exceptionally rare” and one that’s nearly guaranteed to have no effect on an election outcome. 

“No election is perfect, but what our report confirms is that the November 2020 General Election in Maricopa County is the closest it can get,” said the board’s Vice President Clint Hickman (R), who was chair during the Cyber Ninjas audit. “A record number of eligible voters participated, their votes were counted as they were cast using proven processes, and both Republicans and Democrats won state and local races.”

The keys

Jan. 6 attack raised big questions about congressional cybersecurity

The attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters one year ago raised serious questions about the cybersecurity of congressional offices — in addition to the paramount concerns about the physical security of lawmakers and the democratic process.

As they stormed through the Capitol building, rioters gained access to a trove of laptops and other digital devices used by lawmakers and their staffers — opening up the possibility of stealing sensitive information or collecting passwords and other credentials for future hacking. This newsletter described it at the time as a “nightmare scenario” for cyber professionals.

Prosecutors have charged one woman from Pennsylvania, Riley June Williams, with stealing a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. A laptop was also allegedly stolen from the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The attack also raised broader questions about cybersecurity practices in Congress, which can vary greatly from office to office, and has received far less attention than physical security in the year since the attack. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson — who took office after her predecessor resigned in the wake of the attack — warned in a June interview with CNN that she fears a cyberattack against the Capitol far more than another insurrection. 

Check out more of our colleagues’ coverage of the Jan. 6 anniversary:

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell says his phone records were subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol attack

Lindell filed a lawsuit against the committee and Verizon to invalidate the subpoena, which covered phone records from November through January, Politico’s Nicholas Wu reports. Lindell has spent the last year promoting baseless claims that the election was stolen and touted those claims during a so-called Cyber Symposium in August. 

In his lawsuit, Lindell wrote that he “has no involvement whatsoever” in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In the days after the attack, Lindell met with President Donald Trump, holding a piece of paper that read “martial law if necessary,” a seeming reference to ways in which Trump might overturn the election results and retain power.

New York’s attorney general alerted major retailers and restaurants about 1.1 million compromised customer accounts

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) told 17 companies about the breaches after a months-long investigation, the Record’s Catalin Cimpanu reports. The companies — which also included food delivery services — took steps to protect their customers after they learned of the attacks, James’s office said.

Her office found the hacked accounts after monitoring shady online communities where hackers discuss a type of cyberattack that involves logging in to customer accounts by using stolen passwords from other services.

Chat room

The first major reported ransomware breach of a local government this year hit Bernalillo County, N.M. — home to the state’s most populous city, Albuquerque — Emsisoft’s Brett Callow noted:

StateScoop’s Benjamin Freed:

Government scan

Biden strongly considering appointing official with cybersecurity experience to top banking post

Biden is mulling Sarah Bloom Raskin as the Federal Reserve’s top banking regulator, Rachel Siegel reports. Raskin is a former Federal Reserve official who also led the Treasury Department’s work looking into cybersecurity’s financial stability risks in the Obama administration, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Ackerman and Nick Timiraos report.

FTC settles with data analytics firm after millions of Americans’ mortgage files exposed – TechCrunch (TechCrunch)

Cyber insecurity

F.B.I. arrests man accused of stealing unpublished book manuscripts (The New York Times)

Cyberattack hits agency that oversees troubled insurance companies for state (Chicago Tribune)

Global cyberspace

Government military secretary spotted partying with NSO executives (Times of Israel)

Russian businessman pleads not guilty in U.S. to insider trading through hacking (Reuters)

Israeli cyber chief Unna steps down after four years in role (The Jerusalem Post)

Privacy patch

Google tech remotely wipes prisoner’s Samsung of possible evidence, FBI says (Forbes)

Daybook

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee holds a hearing on proposed changes to the Federal Information Security Modernization Act on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • Damian Collins, who chairs the U.K. Parliament’s Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, discusses disinformation at a Washington Post Live event with former Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represented Texas, on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Secure log off

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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