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Election Cybersecurity Threats & How You Can Help Fight Against Them

There are a plethora of cyberattacks and security risks surrounding the upcoming United States election. A few of the risks you should be looking out for are included below, along with tips on what you can do to protect yourself against these threats.

Election-Themed Phishing Schemes

As with any other things that has ever existed, cybercriminals have weaseled their way into the elections via election-themed phishing scams. One such scam poses as the Trump campaign, encouraging recipients to donate to causes which have had very outspoken oppositions to the President. Obviously, since these are in fact false claims, any money donated by a confused fan of the President are going directly into the pockets of the cybercriminals.

A different scheme includes offers for free branded items with saying such as “Keep America Great Again” plastered across them. Dr. Kiri Addison, Head of Data Science for Threat Intelligence & Overwatch, Mimecast says regarding this particular scam, “By offering something free, cybercriminals know that it’s likely unsuspecting victims will provide their personal details. If a criminal gets hold of your personal information, they can use it to impersonate you or even sell it on the dark web. With many Americans, and people from other countries, invested in the American election and the Trump campaign, these scams have the potential to cause real damage. It’s important to understand that if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Social Media Influence

A major issue with the 2016 US Elections discovered via a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation determined that there was “a systematic pattern where Russian firms purchased Facebook ads to sow division along racial and political lines in the U.S.” The amount of viewers of these ads is expected to be beyond 100 million users of the social media platform. On top of this, Twitter and Google have each found evidence of political ad purchases from Russian firms trying to negatively influence voters in America.

A slew of social media platforms have been aggressively pushing voter registration via their banner ads for weeks now. With many opposed to the stylings of the current President, Donald Trump, social media sites made a last ditch effort to get their — typically younger and more liberal — users to get registered to vote. While the encouragement of American citizens to vote — regardless of who they vote for — is something to be applauded, users should exercise a reasonable amount of caution when it comes to providing their personal and private information to these highly hacked sites. Many states’ county clerks offices are still open with social distancing standards enforced to protect the integrity of voting and the health of visitors — this may be a more cyber-safe alternative to the social media registration.

Disinformation & Doubt Expected

The FBI warns that hackers are hoping to add fuel to the fire by adding to and spreading doubt about the 2020 election. Their recent announcement states, “foreign actors and cyber criminals” are trying to spread false claims of cyberattacks on US voter registration databases or voting systems in an effort to “manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in US democratic institutions.” While the FBI and other entities do concede that it is very likely that attacks by malicious actors, particularly those with foreign loyalties, may in fact try and target the 2020 American election, they do offer sound advice regarding fact checking whatever “facts” one might hear on election night which is summarized well by Saryu Nayyar, CEO of Curucul, “A scary headline posted by an Aunt’s Friend’s Cousin on social media is a good reason to check sources, rather than to panic that the election has been compromised.”

Different Means of Voting

Even during a typical election year, you will find a variety of different settings when entering a voting booth. Some places have semi-private booths with a pencil and paper ballot while others have very private booths with digital voting stations where no paper is needed. Many experts explain that even this format of voting poses a breeding ground of opportunities for cybercriminals to attack.

What’s new about this year is the anticipated meteoric rise of mail-in voting, which is expected to pose a number of security issues and add to the aforementioned widespread panic and hysteria that is anticipated to surround November’s election.

What You Can Do This Election Season

While much of the actions which can (or should) be taken surrounding cyberthreats to this year’s elections is beyond our control, there are some things you can do to help, particularly when it comes to your own security.

  • Do not fall for phishing schemes – As was quoted from Dr. Addison above, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Do not fall for election promotions from either side of the party lines and be weary of urgent requests or strange looking senders/email addresses. Protecting your personal data is always a priority but especially when cybercriminals are trying to prey on fear,
  • Fact Check” your newsParticularly surrounding the night of the election, it is imperative to double check the sources and stories you see on your newsfeeds. Many people prefer to share the news that adheres to their opinions and while some may be true, double checking the news that comes across your screen is a smart thing to do – regardless of the time of year, but especially surrounding a hotly debated election.
  • Vote – To have your opinion heard, the best thing you can do is to go vote. I personally went to go register to vote last week and the county clerk’s office had a sign that said “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” – while blunt, this saying does have its merit. Bonus: If you are healthy enough and feel comfortable doing so, vote in person! Your vote is believed to be far more secure in person than via things like mail-in ballots.

Image by Freepik.