Articles about website spoofing, cybersecurity trends, and how to protect your customers from hackers.

Now Election Security Begins

4 - November 2020

By Salvatore Stolfo

Even though election day has passed, we still have to wait for a final answer. So while we wait; now is the  time for us to consider election security. 

There is a trend targeting U.S. elections by foreign governments that seek to stoke extremism and create doubts about the integrity of our democratic processes.  

I would like to distinguish election security from voting security. Voting security concerns the integrity and security of the physical process of voting by the electorate, polling locations, voting machines, mailing ballots. Voting security is short-lived, the process of casting and tallying votes is vulnerable to a number of threats, both foreign and domestic. The election process, however, lasts far longer and is vulnerable to far more insidious threats, as Russia has taught the US so openly since the 2016 election. 

Unlike voting security, election security is long-term, and the effects linger well past voting day. One way foreign governments are manipulating voter confidence is through nation-state operatives that leverage micro-targeting of the US electorate to plant and amplify disinformation. They target online users much the same way advertising is targeted. 

Micro-targeting is core to the internet economy. Each online user’s browsing behavior, or smartphone app use, is observed and analyzed by AI learning systems to create profiles for efficient targeting of advertising. 

When used ethically, micro-targeting isn’t a bad thing.  However, this tactic can be easily leveraged to sway opinions and is an efficient means of executing disinformation campaigns by nation-state actors who seek to manipulate the US election process. 

Disinformation is a strategic weapon to spread lies and deceive a significant portion of the electorate to believe falsehoods about one or another candidate, or manipulate public sentiment about one or another “hot-button” issue. These campaigns also have the dual purpose of creating doubt about the outcomes of an election making it difficult for a winning candidate to govern. Indeed, disinformation campaigns are among the most serious national security threats to the US’s democratic institutions. 

The pesky phishing sites that trick users into giving up their personal information may have been created by foreign actors seeking to identify targets for their disinformation campaigns. Phishing campaigns are now far more serious than ever when foreign governments have gotten into the act. Remember the 2016 election and the disclosure of Podesta’s email on WikiLeaks? That all started with a Russian Spear Phishing campaign. 

What can we do to defend against foreign influencers? 

First and foremost is to identify and stop phishing sites quickly to ensure few if any users are victimized by the site. That is job one. Stopping phishing is the first line of defense. Remember, to stay vigilant when you receive emails purporting to inform you or ask for a donation. There are four simple things you can do.

  1. Be vigilant and carefully read the link you received in an email or text message to ensure it is a legitimate site. 
  2. If the site you visit asks for any private information, like your social security number, it is a phishing site. Close the window.
  3. Likewise, if the site you visit asks for a donation but then it also asks for your bank password, it is a phishing site. Close the window.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, if you read material that seems so outrageous, it is worth the time to check the facts on the article. It is also important to report any site that is suspicious, that is our specialty – Report a Site

Disinformation campaigning has many other outlets. We can defend ourselves from foreign influencers if we recognize the threat and strive to check facts, and most importantly be civil with each other during the election process.  If you are interested in seeing for yourself how we protect customers from phishing scams start a free trial.

Posted by Salvatore Stolfo


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