FBI Boston Division Issues Public Guidance on 2020 Election Security
Everyone Has a Role to Play to Combat Foreign Influence and Protect Our Elections
Today, the Boston Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is providing the public with information to guard against foreign influence and disinformation campaigns in advance of the 2020 election.
From now until November 3, every American has a role to play in protecting the election from threats against the democratic process. These threats include crimes the FBI has been charged with investigating for decades, including campaign finance crimes; voter/ballot fraud; civil rights violations; cyber threats targeting the election process; and the potential for malign foreign influence on the democratic process, elected officials, and institutions.
“Foreign adversaries are counting on you to blindly share their propaganda and lies, and we need you to help us protect your voices and ultimately your votes by making informed decisions about what you view, read, and share on social media,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “That’s why we’re issuing this guidance. We all have a role to play in protecting the sanctity of our elections from interference by criminals and other nefarious actors.”
The Foreign Influence Threat
Foreign adversaries, including Russia and China, and foreign-aligned groups try to illegally influence American political processes. Malign foreign influence operations are designed to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions. There are three common foreign influence methods:
- Cyberattacks against political campaigns and government infrastructure: These attacks might include foreign adversaries hacking and leaking sensitive information from computers, databases, networks, phones, and emails.
- Secret funding or influence operations to help or harm a person or cause: Tactics include political advertising from foreign groups pretending to be U.S. citizens, lobbying by unregistered foreign agents, and illegal campaign contributions from foreign adversaries.
- Disinformation campaigns on social media platforms that confuse, trick, or upset the public: For example, a foreign group may purposefully spread false or inconsistent information about an existing social issue to provoke all sides and encourage conflict.
How the FBI is Combatting Foreign Influence
The FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating malign foreign influence operations. In 2017, the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF) was established to identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States.
The FBI is working closely with partners at every level to better understand the threat, to share intelligence, and—ultimately—to detect, disrupt, and deter our adversaries. The FBI works closely with interagency partners, as well as state and local partners, to ensure we are sharing information as it becomes available. This includes threat information, actionable leads, or indicators, as well as online tools such as our Protected Voices campaign, found at www.fbi.gov/protectedvoices. Protected Voices is an initiative which provides political campaigns, organizations, and other election security stakeholders with resources to protect against malign foreign influence and cyber security threats.
The FBI has also established relationships with a variety of social media and technology companies and maintains an ongoing dialogue to enable a quick exchange of threat information. However, social media companies independently make decisions regarding the content of their platforms and the safety of their members.
Additionally, we have election crime coordinators in each office to assess and address potential threats and ensure your constitutional rights are protected.
What the Public Can Do
- Seek out information from trustworthy sources, verify who produced the content, and consider their intent: Ask yourself, “Where did the information you are reading come from?” and “Who are you talking to online?” Know the origin of information, including the ideology and motivation of the source, and seek out multiple sources to make informed judgments. Be aware of your own assumptions and biases, and how a foreign adversary may choose to manipulate them. Foreign adversaries seek to deepen divisions in the United States, and they may be counting on you to forward information you don’t know to be accurate.
- Be aware of social media deception: Social media provides our adversaries with a way to connect with them easily and anonymously, so users should know their contacts and followers before forming a relationship with them virtually.
- Rely on state and local government election officials: Before election day, ensure the information you receive about your ballot, polling location, or other general information are sourced to official government websites.
- Beware of “deep fakes”: Emerging technology used to generate “deep fakes”—advanced synthetic audio and video generated through artificial intelligence—may mimic authentic communications in a manner that is hard to detect and to counter. “Deep fakes” may be able to elicit a range of responses which can compromise election security. The FBI has been working with the private sector to get ahead of this issue.
- Report suspicious activity to social media platforms: Many social media platforms provide users a means to report suspicious behavior/content. Check the respective site for reporting procedures.
- Report suspicious activity to the FBI: If you have information about allegations of election crime or voter fraud, please call the FBI Boston Division at (857) 386-2000 or email to tips.fbi.gov.