FBI warns disinformation campaigns may target 2020 election results

Americans should look to state election officials for trusted results in November, the FBI said Tuesday, as bad actors may try to sow chaos while votes are still being counted.

In a public service announcement with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the FBI cautioned that certifying the results of the U.S. election could take weeks and that “Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results.”

One potential scenario the agency warned of is hackers’ defacing websites to indicate false election results, causing chaos and confusion without affecting vote tallying systems.

Hackers widely believed by analysts to be associated with Russian military intelligence have carried out such operations in Eastern European countries in recent years. During Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election, Russian hackers defaced an official Ukrainian government website to display false results, leading to days of uncertainty over the true winner.

The government warning does not cite domestic actors as potential sources of disinformation, despite evidence of at least one domestic troll farm in the style of Russia’s Internet Research Agency that inflamed U.S. political tensions ahead of the 2016 election.

It does, however, point specifically to state and local election officials as “trustworthy,” but it does not mention federal officials. President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims about voting by mail to indicate that it is an invalid process, particularly regarding states with Democratic election chiefs, like Colorado and Michigan.