August 02, 2018

Annual 2018: Experts to brainstorm ways to combat Russian cyberattacks as US midterms approach

As Russia continues its campaign to undermine support for democracy, the American judicial system and the rule of law, lawyers need to understand what’s at risk.

A panel of legal experts will discuss the techniques Russia has used in Eastern and Central Europe – known as the “Kremlin Playbook” – as well as other technology-enabled practices at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting program, “Attacks on Our Institutions of Democracy: The Role of the Judicial System,” on Saturday, Aug. 4 from 1:30-3 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Columbus Hall KL.

Moderator Harvey Rishikof, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security Advisory Committee, will be joined by panelists:

  • Suzanne Spaulding, senior adviser for homeland security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and former undersecretary of national protection and programs directorate at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

  • Judge Margaret Sweeney, United States Court of Federal Claims

  • Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, dean emerita, University of the Pacific McGeorge Law School and former general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.

Democratic institutions in Europe and the United States have been under attack by Russia for a decade, with the aim to weaken and erode the credibility of the United States and its allies.

“We have a common shared culture and it is what keeps us together as a nation – and it is our legal system,” Parker said in a recent Law Security Today podcast.  “Our system of rules and laws under the Constitution … unless that can be protected, we are vulnerable.”

The goal of Russian state-sponsored hacking efforts is often to create an impression of institutional incompetence and typically targets specific individuals, such as investigators and prosecutors, particularly those looking into Russian activities.

“Our courts are being painted as really just organs of the state, and political,” Spaulding said, recounting instances of misinformation about alleged crimes that were amplified on social media sites. “These information operations can undermine public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the courts.”

As we approach the mid-term elections in November, Russia’s ongoing meddling to disrupt the U.S. electoral process is top of mind. Panelists will also focus on the methods used by hackers targeting election systems directly and how foreign operatives pursue political organizations, campaigns and public officials.

The discussion will include the role technology plays in magnifying hacking efforts with the use of bots, which run automatically and spread misinformation at high rates of speed. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have taken steps in removing both automated bots and disinformation from their platforms.

Panelists will also suggest the applicable legal framework that might be used to counter these threats, as well as proposals for legislation and other legal developments related to addressing the risks of foreign-adversary interference.

The panel will discuss other ways to mitigate the threat, such as a renewed emphasis on civics education in American classrooms, and greater transparency in campaign finance, in order to strengthen the pillars of democracy against adversaries who seek to chip away at them.

“Our intelligence community is not designed to do things domestically but to protect us from external threats,” Parker said. “A democracy is only as strong as its citizens and their ability to understand their systems and work to protect them.”

The discussion will include the role technology plays in magnifying hacking efforts with the use of bots, which run automatically and spread misinformation at high rates of speed. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have taken steps in removing both automated bots and disinformation from their platforms – but are those efforts adequate?

American government officials seem to understand the urgent need to more effectively counter these efforts. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently announced plans to inform American companies, private organizations and individuals when they are under covert attack by foreign actors, in real time.

“Attacks on Our Institutions of Democracy: The Role of the Judicial System” is sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security.