Live News Streaming Figures for #Election2020 Highlight Misinformation Threat

Live news streaming traffic of the US Presidential election was double the peak levels observed during the 2016 election, according to data released by Akamai. The approximately 18 Tbps recorded on Akamai’s Intelligent Edge platform during coverage of the election on November 3 was around five-times higher than traffic seen on a typical day.

The figures highlight the extent to which people have digested information about this year's election at home via digital and streaming technology as a result of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

It fits with the trends seen throughout the entire ‘pandemic election’ season, with much more campaigning taking place digitally and people having been increasingly reliant on television and the internet for information. This has provided extra opportunities for malicious actors to spread misinformation about the campaigns and, especially in recent days, about the integrity of the election itself.

In response, social media firms like Twitter and Facebook have taken a strong line on the spread of misinformation on their sites, even leading to the suspension of the Twitter account of the president of the United States’ election campaign.

Speaking to Infosecurity about these trends, Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and advisory CISO at Thycotic, commented: “I don’t think that the security of the US election has made much difference since the attackers continued to focus cyber-attacks at the election campaigns and creating disinformation on social media, all focused at generating distrust in the system. Hacking an election is not about influencing the outcome, it is about hacking democracy. It is always important to see the ultimate motive and hacking democracy is about dividing people, creating distrust in both your government and your fellow citizens.”

He added: “Again, hacking an election is not about changing the outcome, it is a long term election hacking campaign creating distrust in democracy and polarization in the country. A country that is divided will fail to innovate and create a positive society where security is part of the culture.” 

Tensions surrounding the election have been ramped up as votes continue to be counted across key swing states in what is proving to be a tight race. Current President Donald Trump has repeatedly made claims of fraud in light of the much greater use of postal ballots in this election, and has launched legal actions in several states. Such claims have been widely circulated across social media, sparking fears this could lead to violence at polling stations.

Victoria Mosby, federal mobile security expert at Lookout, said: “With the vast majority of the United States stuck at home, campaigns have created elaborate ads, videos and tweets to reach their constituents. The issue is that this also allows for disinformation to spread uncontrollably across these platforms in both simple and complex forms. This could be as simple as a misleading post going viral and reflecting poorly enough on a candidate to swing voter opinions. The more complex actors use deep fake technology, which has come a very long way over the last few years. This technology makes it relatively straightforward to create fake videos of a candidate’s likeness in questionable scenarios.”

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