Psychologically-engineered elections and how the US fights against it

Elections serve as the backbone of a democratic system, yet in many countries, they merely give autocratic regimes a veneer of legitimacy. What such elections cannot do is validate the winners, provide security to the losers or instill public confidence in their institutions. This, in turn, creates a fragile and volatile political environment. Some may say this is the state of the United States post-2016 elections.

On this episode of CyberChat, host Sean Kelley, former EPA CISO, is joined by three fellows from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology to discuss the changing cyber landscape of the U.S. and its impact on the political environment.

“Russia interfered with the elections, but so did China, the Muslim Brotherhood, special interest groups within our borders, the metadata curators, and the dragnet surveillance capitalists, that turned into dragnet surveillance propagandists like Google, Facebook, YouTube, [and] Twitter, ” said James Scott, co-founder of ICIT.


We are not the only nation facing this crisis. Incidents of election interference has been observed across Europe as well.

“We have more to fear from special interest groups that have technical acumen, that understand how to weaponize digital vectors, how to expedite information flow, how to metrically introduce concepts to take to truths that in-between put a lie … partially true material but has an ideological variant slant,” said Scott.

Cylance’s Rob Bathrust called it “the manipulation of the perception of the people based on the targeting of ads for content not products. If you think about it in a large scale, the candidate running or the policy that they are looking to pass becomes the product. So the more fervor you can make to reach the base that believes in that product, the better success you’re going to have in the overall election.”

David Wray of MicroFocus believes “we need some regulation especially on IoT devices, because that is the access to knowledge about citizens. You now understand the vectors which you can exploit.”

There is a need for legislation that “takes into consideration civil liberties and security by design,” which Scott said is the backbone of the CyberShield Act. Security by design is a nonpartisan issue. When advising various agencies, ICIT Fellows said they hear the same themes: cyber hygiene, security by design and preservation of civil liberties.

Top Takeaways

1. Russia and many others interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.
2. Interest groups with technical acumen to weaponized digital vectors are far more dangerous than nations of interest.
3. You can control election outcomes by manipulating people’s perceptions.
4. Regulations such as the CyberShield Act can better protect our civil liberties.