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US census vulnerable to Russian meddling, top official warns

Russian President Vladimir Putin during an interview in July 2018. (Kremlin/Released)

The U.S. Census Bureau is concerned the Russian government could hack into data collected in the 2020 Census, in a similar way to how it interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a top bureau official said.

“Most of the agencies of the federal government that ingest data are very concerned about interference in the process of taking the 2020 census,” said John Abowd, chief scientist at the U.S. Census bureau. “We are very concerned about this and very concerned about developing appropriate defenses,” he told a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta conference in Amelia Island, Fla.

Government chief information officers and security staffers are meeting regularly to assess threats and make preparations for detecting them, Abowd said. The bureau is working with Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, where a team of about 20 people is focused on securing the system and gaming out possible hacks, The Washington Post reported in April.

“Everyone understands this is a game in which there is no incentive to show your hand until you are ready to attack,” Abowd said in response to a question about a possible Russian attack. “The methods we are going to use to determine if there is an attack coming are necessarily secret.”

Abowd spoke as part of a session looking at privacy issues with data collection. The Atlanta Fed’s financial markets conference, “Mapping The Financial Future,” looks at issues facing the financial industry and regulators over the next decade.

The recently released report from special counsel Robert Mueller documented efforts of the Russian government to interfere in the presidential election to promote the candidacy of Donald Trump. The report concluded the president and his associates didn’t conspire with Russia, but cited a number of cases in which he sought to undermine the Mueller probe.


© 2019 Bloomberg News

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