U.S. Election Under Siege from Cybercriminals

  • By Dawna M. Roberts
  • Oct 23, 2020

With every U.S. American on the edge of their seats awaiting the outcome of this year’s presidential election, hackers and cybercriminals are wasting no time trying to manipulate the results.

Security Breaches and Ransomware

The COVID pandemic saw a huge boost in phishing emails, healthcare facility breaches, and ransomware attacks, but now cybercriminals are targeting the presidential election to affect the result. 

In 2016, the Democratic National Committee was hacked, and many people believe the results were tampered with, resulting in an unfavorable outcome. With many Americans still under quarantine, voters have concerns about mail-in ballots and voting machines being compromised. 

Threatpost interviewed Matt Olney, Director of Talos’ Threat Intelligence and Interdiction at Cisco. He said what is most alarming is “going after the minds of the American people and their trust in the democratic institutions that we use to select our leaders.”

Email Attacks

On Wednesday, John Radcliffe, Director of National Intelligence at the FBI, and FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Americans in a press release that Iran is responsible for damaging email campaigns that target U.S. voters and spread misinformation to sway public opinion and votes. They did not stipulate how they know that Iran has gotten ahold of voter registration data and email addresses.

Radcliffe commented that “To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest and damage, President Trump.” He continued by reassuring voters that an Iranian video showing how easy it is to fake ballots is not true.

Intelligence officials briefed Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer on Wednesday, and he said that “From the briefing, I had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.” He was referring to the emails not being aimed at getting Trump elected or pushed out of office.

However, some Democrats have received actual threats via email warning them of physical violence if they don’t vote for Trump. Although the FBI does have information suggesting that both Iran and Russia have voter registration information, they have not alluded to the fact that these threats have come from either location. 

The Washington Post reported that emails received included messages like “You will vote for Trump on Election Day, or we will come after you.” The fake emails appear to come from a pro-Trump organization called Proud Boys. Voters in Arizona, Alaska, and Florida received these emails. The actual Proud Boys have denied any responsibility for these malicious messages. So far, more than 1000 recipients have reported receiving the fake messages.

Additionally, Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, commented that “Unlike the U.S., Iran does not interfere in other countries’ elections.” He continued with, “Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome.”

Misinformation Campaigns

Voter registration information is not that hard to obtain. In some locations such as Florida, the information is widely distributed. In other states, voter registration is protected. It’s unclear if hackers used data breaches or official channels to acquire the information, but they are using it to attempt to sway the public. 

Radcliffe noted that “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Fake Election Video

There are also reports of an Iranian video being distributed that illustrates how easy it is for a hacker to cast fraudulent votes. The video features a shot of Trump talking about mail-in ballots, where he says, “I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing.” The video also displays the Proud Boys logo. It then shows a hacker using a SQL injection tool to grab voter registration information and then manipulate votes and absentee ballots. The federal government assures voters that this is not possible, and they have in place security measures to detect vote tampering and duplicate ballots.

The Good News

During this campaign, the good news is that the government and the public are well informed of these tactics and have access to resources to check the facts and be on the lookout for fraudulent techniques, phishing emails, and fake calls.

How You Can Protect Yourself During the Election

The director of U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher Krebs, warns people to ignore “threatening emails with misleading info about the secrecy of your vote.” The secrecy of votes is guaranteed by law, and government officials will do everything in their power to protect every citizens’ vote.

Some common-sense advice to protect you and your vote this year are:

  • Follow government guidelines when sending in your ballot.
  • Do not respond to any phishing or threatening emails about voter registration or votes.
  • Do not give out any personal information to anyone who you do not know.
  • Never click a link in an email.
  • Keep your computer and other devices updated with security patches and good antivirus/anti-malware software. Run deep scans often.


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