To compete and thrive in the 21st century, democracies, and the United States in particular, must develop new national security and economic strategies that address the geopolitics of information. In the 20th century, market capitalist democracies geared infrastructure, energy, trade, and even social policy to protect and advance that era’s key source of power—manufacturing. In this century, democracies must better account for information geopolitics across all dimensions of domestic policy and national strategy.
Directed by Eric Rosenbach, the Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) aims to identify and recommend strategies, tools, and technology to protect democratic processes and systems from cyber and information attacks. By creating a unique and bipartisan team comprised of top-notch political operatives, experts in technology, and leaders in the cyber and national security world, D3P intends to offer concrete solutions to an urgent problem.
Foreign nations and non-state actors are not backing down in their efforts to hack systems, alter the outcome, and undermine confidence in our elections. The Defending Digital Democracy Project will help institutions fortify themselves against these attacks by:
- Developing solutions to share important threat information with technology providers, governments, political organizations;
- Providing election administrators, election infrastructure providers, campaign organizations and leaders involved in democratic processes with practical “playbooks” to improve their cybersecurity;
- Developing strategies for how the United States and other democracies can credibly deter hostile actors from engaging in cyber and information operations;
- Assessing emerging technologies, such as blockchain, that may improve the integrity of systems and processes vital to elections and democracy;
- Convening civic, technology, and media leaders to develop best practices that can shield our public discourse from adversarial information operations.
D3P is led by Eric Rosenbach, Co-Director of the Belfer Center and former Assistant Secretary of Defense. Prior to his July 2015 appointment as Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Rosenbach served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security.
In 2017, Rosenbach recruited Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, and Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager, to join D3P as Fellows and co-founders.
“Americans across the political spectrum agree that political contests should be decided by the power of ideas, not the skill of foreign hackers,” Rosenbach said. “Cyber deterrence starts with strong cyber defense — and this project brings together key partners in politics, national security, and technology to generate innovative ideas to safeguard our key democratic institutions.”
“Over the last two years, nearly every election on both sides of the Atlantic has been affected by foreign cyber attacks, including Hillary Clinton’s in 2016,” said Mook. “Many foreign countries, and even terrorist organizations, exploit digital technology to advance their agendas and influence public narratives abroad. This project will find practical solutions to help both parties and civic institutions that are critical to our elections better secure themselves and become more resilient to attacks.”
“Cyber attacks on campaigns and elections are a threat to our democracy and affect people of all political stripes,” said Rhoades. "Foreign actors could target any political party at any time, and that means we all need to work together to address these vulnerabilities. This project will bring together not just different parties and ideologies, but subject matter experts from cyber security, national security, technology, and election administration to make a difference.”
D3P focuses on creating accessible and actionable tools to promote knowledge and support decisionmakers. Eric Rosenbach testified that "Disruptions to American elections are a whole-of-nation threat that requires a whole of government response. In the face of these threats, Congress needs to take the lead on securing our democracy. We will never be able to eliminate the cyber and information risks posed by our adversaries to elections, but we can manage this risk effectively by prioritizing actions to secure our elections now."
Senior Advisory Group
- Heather Adkins, Director, Information Security and Privacy, Google
- Dmitri Alperovitch, Co-Founder and CTO, Crowdstrike
- Stuart Holliday, President and CEO, Meridian International Center; former United States Ambassador for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations
- Kent Lucken, Managing Director, Citigroup
- Robby Mook, co-founder, Defending Digital Democracy Project
- Jan Neutze, Director of Cybersecurity Policy, Microsoft
- Debora Plunkett, former Director of the National Security Agency's Information Assurance Directorate
- Eric Rosenbach, Co-Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
- Suzanne Spaulding, former Under Secretary for National Protections and Programs Directorate, Department of Homeland Security
- Alex Stamos, former Chief Security Officer, Facebook
- Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, MIT
- Siobhan Gorman, Director of the Cybersecurity Practice, Brunswick Group
- Matt Rhoades, Co-Founder, Defending Digital Democracy Project
- Michael Steed, Founder and Managing Partner, Paladin Capital Group
2020 National Training Tour
The Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) is launching a national training tour effort for local election officials as they prepare for the 2020 election.
Given the many changes of the past months, this tour will be conducted digitally and is designed to give officials the best of D3P live training sessions in a new format. In addition to supporting local election officials through customized training, the tour may also host some special sessions for state election officials.
Local jurisdictions can sign up for a block of virtual training sessions from June to August 2020, with the timing, content, and outputs customizable based on election officials’ schedules and priority needs. D3P’s work is committed to supporting officials in protecting the elections process. Just as you continue your work to serve the American people, we continue our work to serve you.
The training can be tailored to focus on issues that are top of mind or high-risk areas for officials. Key topics include:
- Operations Management and Incident Tracking (e.g., Frameworks from the Elections Battle Staff Playbook)
- Incident Response / Crisis Communications (e.g., Cyber and Mis/Disinformation Incident Communications Response)
- Information Operations (e.g., Identifying, responding and reporting disinformation and misinformation incidents)
- Special topics including COVID-19 and related cybersecurity and disinformation considerations
The training design relies on an interactive, discussion-based format and includes a live simulation to work through concepts in small groups. Each training engagement will include some form of:
- Pre-work: Review short checklists, templates, and self-assessment questionnaires
- Classroom training: Review and share best practices and current trends that may impact your work
- Live simulation/ Table Top Exercise (TTX): Validate your processes and responses to generate actionable information for post-training follow up
- Action plan & ongoing support: Develop a list of actionable next steps to implement after training and contact the training team for any additional post-training support
- Deliverables: Receive a customized plan, playbooks, handouts, checklists, or other soft copy materials to disseminate among your team and reference throughout the year
Sign Up for the Training Tour!
The D3P team’s goal is to best support officials this summer and to custom the delivery of tour content as works best for your jurisdictions. D3P hopes to facilitate training sessions with as many states and local jurisdictions as possible! To reserve a week, or discuss other scheduling options for your jurisdiction, please complete the interest form linked below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Please also feel free to share any feedback on how we might best be able to integrate the training tour with your ongoing efforts (e.g. State Association convenings). Once you sign up to learn more, our team will be in touch to discuss what scheduling works best and share additional detail on training format options.
We look forward to connecting with you!
D3P is grateful for the Democracy Fund’s support in this effort.
The Election Influence Operations Playbook
The threat of Influence Operations (IO) strikes the core of our democracy by seeking to influence hearts and minds with divisive and often false information. Although malicious actors are targeting the whole of society, the upcoming “The Election Influence Operations Playbook” focuses on a subset of influence operations—the types of disinformation attacks and misinformation incidents most commonly seen around elections, where election officials are best positioned to counter them.
This Playbook includes guides that aim to provide election officials with resources and recommendations on how to navigate information threats targeting elections. It offers an introduction to Election Influence Operations: what they are, how they work, and why they can impact our elections. It also includes recommendations for reporting, responding and countering mis and disinformation incidents around elections.
This Playbook is meant to be a starting point and can be adapted for a jurisdiction’s needs. We hope it will be a useful resource for state and local election officials working to protect our elections and democracy from these evolving threats.
Download the full playbooks below:
This section of the Playbook provides an introduction to Influence Operations: what they are, who is carrying them out, why they can impact our elections, and how they work.
This playbook explores mis and disinformation incidents that specifically focus on elections operations and infrastructure. Throughout these guides, we refer to mis/disinformation as one concept, since the strategies for countering or responding to them are the same.
This section of the Playbook includes recommendations and materials focused on the response process. It will help election officials respond to election-related mis and disinformation incidents quickly and in a coordinated fashion.
In this Playbook, we refer to mis/disinformation throughout as one concept. Instances of both misinformation (unintentional) and disinformation (intentional) in the elections process provide incorrect information to voters. For election officials, any incorrect information presented to voters, regardless of source or intention, can pose a threat to elections because it can undermine voters’ understanding of and trust in the election.
Because mis/disinformation can occur before, during, and after elections, recommendations in this guide support officials throughout each phase. While there is no one solution to countering mis/disinformation incidents, the response plan will help officials prepare and respond as tactics evolve.
Part 3: Mis/Disinformation Scenario Plans
This section complements Part 1 and Part 2 of the Playbook and is available exclusively for election officials’ use. It provides specific recommendations and scenario-based materials to aid state and local election officials in building a response plan.
This guide includes materials for six mock scenarios that could occur and spread on social media: (1) false voter identification requirements spread online; (2) congestion is causing polling places to turn voters away; (3) political partisans are “stealing the election;” (4) the people who run elections are corrupt; (5) false claims that poll places are closed due to COVID-19; and (6) false claims of a judicial/official order to delay the election.
D3P National Election Data Set
In Development — Working Draft
U.S. national security officials have warned that malicious actors will continue to use influence operations and disinformation attacks against the United States during and in the lead up to the 2020 election. These threats seek to cast doubt, cause division and amplify false information.
Although malicious actors are targeting the whole of society, D3P has been working to provide recommendations and resources that highlight a subset of influence operations—the types of disinformation attacks and misinformation incidents most commonly seen around elections and the election process.
Influence Operations are occurring before, during, and after election day. The 2020 general election will be unlike any other that the American public has experienced before. The significant operational challenges associated with holding an election during a pandemic—especially an enormous increase in voting by mail—are exacerbated by a lack of public awareness of how those changes will affect the tempo of Election Night, the time it takes to tabulate ballots, and potentially when results can be declared.
These realities in the midst of the current threat landscape provide fodder for disinformation to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election process and on election results. We have developed a dataset detailing the most relevant state-specific factors that describe the election process and may affect timelines for tabulating and reporting election results. This dataset can serve as a resource to media, public leaders, and voters seeking comprehensive, state-by-state information about the election.
This is a living document that we will update on a regular basis, as some of these regulations and factors that underpin the data are changing in real time. We will also be adding more information into the data set over the upcoming weeks, and welcome feedback about relevant factors to include, which can be shared at email@example.com.
This data set currently provides information on and analysis for state-specific regulations regarding:
- Getting a ballot
- Return timing for ballots
- Ease of voting by mail factors
- Processing and counting mail-in ballots
- Early voting
- Provisional ballots
As disinformation attacks seek to disrupt our elections and cast doubt on our democratic processes, we hope this data set is a helpful resource in better understanding election processes during an unprecedented time.