USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative (ECI) Executive Director Adam Clayton Powell III joined Marla Tellez and Elex Michaelson on FOX 11 Los Angeles to discuss cybersecurity threats in the wake of the June 17 conference. The Google-supported initiative will present ten regional nonpartisan workshops training campaigns, election officials, and policymakers to protect local and state elections throughout 2021, building upon the workshops Powell and his team hosted in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
Though the U.S. midterm elections will not take place until 2022, Powell explained that “Our adversaries are active: they are increasing their efforts and attacking infrastructure at all times.” The frequency and intensity of cyberattacks has worsened throughout the pandemic, as countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea experimented with new techniques and specific targets. Powell offered the example of the threat to the Associated Press on Election Night 2020, describing how the AP experienced “thousands of withering, sophisticated attacks unlike anything they’d ever seen.”
Hackers were motivated to target the AP because the organization is responsible for tallying vote totals; if the AP goes down on Election Night, there are no election returns. More recently, institutions such as hospitals and even oil pipelines have faced similar attacks from foreign actors.
When asked about the ECI’s overarching message, Powell stressed the bipartisan nature of the issue. “Bad actors are looking for just the smallest opening,” Powell said, adding that experts who speak at the workshops emphasize the importance of basic security measures such as strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
Thursday’s workshop was presented in a hybrid format, both in person at the University of Nevada, Reno and via Zoom, to an audience from Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.
The USC Election Cybersecurity Initiative also recently received the 2021 Stanley F. Reed Award for Best Civic Education Resource for its work in the 2020 election. Given by Campaign and Elections magazine, the Reed Awards recognize outstanding work in political campaigning and public affairs.
Watch the full interview here.