AI Lowers Barrier for Cyber-Adversary Manipulation in 2024 Election

Securing the presidential election requires vigilance and hardened cybersecurity defenses.

Shawn Henry, Chief Security Officer, CrowdStrike

April 19, 2024

3 Min Read
Spy peering between the bars on American flag
Source: thinkx2 via Alamy Stock Photo


Foreign adversaries have attempted to disrupt the US elections for years through various methods. This includes espionage and "hack and leak" campaigns that steal sensitive data and later amplify it in public forums. Today, generative AI (GenAI) is altering the battlefield for attacks, and in the modern information ecosystem where misinformation and disinformation can spread rapidly, it has the potential to transform geopolitics.

Throughout my 24-year career with the FBI, I witnessed sophisticated adversaries attempt to sow confusion and cripple networks, as cyber-threat actors developed tools and tactics to disrupt businesses, governments, and more. The malicious use and proliferation of GenAI in 2024 presents one of the toughest challenges we'll face in an election year. 

Adversaries Continue on Their Path to Disrupt and Dismantle

Nation-state adversaries affiliated with and tied to the motivations of foreign governments have the resources to scale operations, and pose a constant threat to democracy. As we've seen previously, it's likely that threat actors from China, Russia, and Iran (charged for sending fake, intimidating emails to US voters in 2020) will seek to interfere with the 2024 US election.

Adversaries may seek to target actual election infrastructure itself, including the hardware and software used to tally and transmit votes, as well as political campaign assets. While some actors have leveraged information operations, generative AI is poised to increase the attractiveness of this malicious activity. With GenAI, it is easier than ever for threat actors to create content and influence narratives that support their underlying goals and objectives. This, in turn, can undermine public confidence and perceptions of political issues, parties, and candidates.

In fact, we're already starting to see the impacts. Threat actors from China recently weaponized deepfakes ahead of Taiwan's election, aiming to increase the voting public's confidence in candidates more diplomatic to China. Fabricated information campaigns stemming from state-nexus entities will not be novel in 2024; however, generative AI will make deciphering what is real or not infinitely more difficult. 

The rise of GenAI has also lowered the barrier of entry for virtually anyone to interfere with elections. Less sophisticated hackers or hacktivists with a specific geopolitical goal may be able to create high-quality disinformation campaigns with relative ease. We've already seen a local magician make global headlines this year by using AI to create fake robocalls, and it's only April.

Countering These Growing Threats

So, what can be done? When it comes to protecting the disparate election systems, it is critical to apply a risk-informed approach. At the heart of this is hardening environments to protect systems and stop breaches, 24/7 continuous monitoring of systems, and deep visibility into critical areas of risk, including endpoints, cloud, and identity. Employing both threat hunting and threat intelligence is equally as important, as these tools help to proactively protect against adversaries who may attempt to penetrate networks.

State and local elections administration entities have improved their security over the past several election cycles. So too have political parties and campaign entities. But additional attention and investment is warranted.

With respect to information operations, we must continue to raise awareness. Defending against this threat starts with vigilance from everyone. Citizens must be on alert and validate the origin of information they are consuming, consider the source's political stance and objective, and attempt to validate information through trusted sources prior to amplifying it. All Americans have a crucial role to play in critically analyzing the information they are getting and, more importantly, sharing 

Social media companies and GenAI companies should work to detect and prevent threat actors' use of their tools and platform. At a minimum this means cooperating with each other where appropriate and collaborating with cybersecurity companies and IT providers that have experience tracking these groups.

In 2024, voters in all 50 states and across 55 countries will participate in elections, providing numerous opportunities for adversaries with various motivations to disrupt and dismantle confidence in democracy. With proper awareness, preparation, and cybersecurity best practices in place, we can take a big step forward in defending democracy in the digital age. Failure to do so could be catastrophic.

About the Author(s)

Shawn Henry

Chief Security Officer, CrowdStrike

Shawn Henry serves as chief security officer and is one of the company's longest tenured executive leaders, having joined in 2012 after retiring from the FBI senior executive service. In Henry’s role, he oversees all security aspects of CrowdStrike, including the company's information security, business continuity and resiliency, and risk reduction programs, as well as the physical security of CrowdStrike's global facilities, personnel, executive protection, and corporate events. Prior to joining CrowdStrike, Shawn oversaw half of the FBI's investigative operations as Executive Assistant Director, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, and the FBI's critical incident response to major investigations and disasters.

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