“Fear, uncertainty and doubt,” or “FUD.” is a well-established term among cybersecurity professionals.
The Department of Homeland Security has been preparing for today for more than a year. They’ve held cyber disaster practice runs, worked hand-in-hand with local precincts and tried to calm fears about hacking voting machines. (Which, by the way, is easy to pull off in a staged test environment at a cybersecurity conference, but almost impossible in real-time on Election Day).
As one top cybersecurity official at DHS said this morning, “There’s a lot of noise out there, and a lot of it being pushed is propaganda. For the most part, it’s all garbage.”
There’s been some misinformation spread online, but the DHS official saw no evidence of a massive campaign — only the vague malicious social media activity common “in all elections.” Those attempts have mostly been shot down by the social media platforms on which they appeared, he said.
It’s good moment to step back, temper our paranoia, and consider some of the genuine problems facing voters today.
Influence operations in advance of elections have been a staple of our voting process since the American revolution. They played a huge role in elections held during World War II. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns sowed plenty of discord during the Cold War.
These campaigns are serious. And malign operations were significantly ramped up during the 2016 election and after. The purpose of these campaigns, as the Mueller indictments clearly spelled out, was to create discord and doubt in the election process itself. It was not to change votes after they were cast or to spur outages at the polls.
Now, we all know to expect these kinds of campaigns. But it’s surprising to see public officials pick up that fear flag and keep running.
We should fear that fear more than we fear Russians or the rain.
The only way to counteract FUD in this public sphere — and really, any malign influence campaign — is to use your brain, read the candidates’ positions, figure out which one you like the best and vote for that person with confidence.
If you haven’t already. There are a few hours left.