A nondescript office in Riga’s communist-era Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science is potentially Latvia’s last line of defense against threats to next month’s general election.
There, the nation’s 29-strong CERT cybersecurity group is bracing for its biggest test to date: repelling attempts by Russia to sway the voting process. Having studied meddling in the U.S. and fellow European Union members like Germany, the team is schooling state employees on suspicious emails and website links that could be phishing attempts, all the while receiving “threat feeds” from NATO and allied countries.
Elsewhere, the government is working with Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to stem the spread of fake news. Ballots at the Oct. 6 vote will be scanned electronically and can be counted by hand, should concerns arise at any precinct, adding an extra layer of security.
“The awareness that something could happen is clearly much higher” than during the last election, Varis Teivans, CERT’s deputy head, said in an interview in a secure room containing some basic furniture but no computers. “It’s clear our big neighbor, Russia, has carried out offensive cyber operations against the Baltic states.”
Latvia has particular grounds to be wary: At a quarter, ethnic Russians are a bigger chunk of the population than in Estonia or Lithuania, making the country an attractive target for Putin to try to sow discord inside the EU. On top of that, a political party catering to the Russian minority may have its best shot at taking power for more than a decade.
Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis said during an EU summit last week that coordination is necessary to fight misinformation and cyberattacks.
Russia, whose Internet trolls also targeted the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, vehemently denies interfering abroad. The Kremlin declined to comment.