DHS Secretary: No Sign China’s Trying to Hack Midterm Vote

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Bebeto Matthews/AP

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The statement comes after President Trump warned of a Chinese election influence effort.

There’s no current evidence that China is attempting to undermine or alter the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday, pulling back a claim President Donald Trump made last week at the United Nations.

There's “currently no indication that a foreign adversary intends to disrupt our election infrastructure” Nielsen said during a Washington Post cybersecurity summit, though she noted that could change before the November vote.

Chinese influence operations tend to be focused on spreading positive information about China and batting back criticism, she said, in contrast to Russia’s 2016 efforts to sow chaos and undermine democratic processes.

"In the case of China, it’s part of a more holistic approach to influence the American public in favor of China,” Nielsen said.

Trump claimed of China during his UN speech that: “They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president to ever challenge China on trade.”

Nielsen’s claims were backed up during the Washington Post summit by James Mulvenon, general manager of the special programs division at SOS International, and Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which tracks Chinese hacking operations.

Mulvenon described a global influence operation by the Chinese military focused on raising China’s image as a world power and a positive force in world affairs. Mulvenon has seen no evidence so far, of Chinese efforts to disrupt the elections, he said.

Alperovitch described a spike over the past 18 months in Chinese commercial hacking that has effectively nullified a 2015 U.S.-China deal that neither nation would hack the other for purely commercial gain.

Chinese commercial hacking had previously dropped as much as 90 percent after the deal, Alperovitch said.

The current hacking campaign has not included efforts to undermine the midterm elections, Alperovitch noted.

The Trump administration has surged its criticism of Chinese hacking in recent months, including in a March report from the U.S. Trade Representative. The criticisms have come at the same time as a tit-for-tat effort to raise the tariffs Chinese importers pay for U.S. goods.

FBI Director Christopher Wray sounded an alarm yesterday about Chinese efforts to both hack U.S. companies and to acquire intellectual property and trade secrets through mergers and joint ventures.  

He urged corporate board members to be wary, warning that such deals “might not look so great a couple years down the road if you’re in the middle of a slow bleed of your intellectual property.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to correct James Mulvenon's title.