The threat of Iran to the election i harder to judge. Senior American officials said it was intent on trying to hurt Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign. Some believe Iran would stage attacks on oil shipping this fall, to try to cause economic calamity. But with the global economy already in turmoil from the pandemic, Iran’s room to try to influence the election through such attacks may be more limited.
China is not new to presidential elections. In 2008, intelligence officials warned the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain that Chinese hackers had penetrated their campaign computer systems. But that was intelligence gathering, it appears, not an effort to influence the outcome in the way Russia tried eight years later.
This year, intelligence officials do not believe China will try the same kind of brazen techniques Moscow has employed. Instead, intelligence officials said Friday, China is playing a long game, trying to cultivate local politicians who may ultimately win election to Congress.
Mick Baccio, a former information security official with Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, said that with large numbers of absentee ballots and a potentially long counting period, foreign interference could intensify in November. As votes are being counted, foreign powers could seek to undermine confidence in the vote.
The 2020 election “is like every disaster movie sequel rolled into one,” said Mr. Baccio, now an adviser with the cybersecurity firm Splunk. “The postelection period is what I am most concerned about. The window of time where we are uncertain, that is when they will drop their madness.”
The intensified work by China, Russia, Iran and others provides a major challenge to the campaigns.
“Nothing is unhackable,” Mr. Baccio said. “You raise the bar as best you can. You identify your crown jewels of data and you lock it down the best you can.”
In recent weeks, intelligence officials have briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill about election interference threats from China, according to American officials.