You think election meddling is bad now? Buckle up for 2020, US intel chief tells Congress

Expect trolls, cyber attacks, and even deep fakes in next White House run

Attacks intended to sway the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election are probably already underway, according to the nation's head of intelligence.

Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence, told the the US Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that China, Russia, and Iran are most likely already well into their operations aimed at influencing the outcome of the election to suit their national interests. It'll make 2016 look like a warm up, he warned.

"More broadly, US adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine US alliances and partnerships, and shape policy outcomes in the United States and elsewhere," Coats said in his remarks (PDF) to the bipartisan panel.

"We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections."

In addition to the current tactics of trolling, hacking political operatives, and social media influence, Coats said deep fake videos are likely to rear their ugly heads in 2020.

"Adversaries and strategic competitors probably will attempt to use deep fakes or similar machine-learning technologies to create convincing—but false—image, audio, and video files to augment influence campaigns directed against the United States and our allies and partners," he told the Senate.

Let's be careful out there

The remarks were part of an annual security briefing that Coats and his counterparts at other intelligence agencies give to the committee on the various network and data threats they expect the US to face in the coming months and years.

In addition to messing with elections, the US intel boss said that he expects hostile nations to continue cyberattacks against the US, with each country choosing a different tactic based on its strengths and needs.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA, JANUARY 2017: Russian traditional toy - Matryoshka with a portrait of Putin and Trump. showcase souvenir kiosk Editorial credit: dimbar76 / Shutterstock, Inc.

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Russia, for example, will likely continue to go after critical infrastructure and focus on stealing intel from NATO and Five Eyes (US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand) allies in an attempt to get military and diplomatic dirt.

Iran, meanwhile, is likely to focus on social media campaigns to help boost its public image and sway opinions in its favor and North Korea will look to boost its coffers with financial hacks.

China, however, was specifically singled out as the biggest threat to the US. Coats pointed out that Beijing has the capacity and desire to go after American targets for not only diplomatic and military information, but also for attacks on infrastructure and private-sector business.

"China remains the most active strategic competitor responsible for cyber espionage against the US Government, corporations, and allies," Coats noted.

"It is improving its cyber attack capabilities and altering information online, shaping Chinese views and potentially the views of US citizens—an issue we discuss in greater detail in the Online Influence Operations and Election Interference section of this report." ®

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