Citizens around the US will soon be heading to the polls to cast ballots in the midterm elections, selecting new leaders at various levels of government or supporting incumbent politicians. Election security has remained an important part of the country’s democratic process in the midst of external influences.
Threats have persisted in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 insurrection against the Congressional certification of President Joe Biden. These threats have made it difficult to attract poll workers for the elections and determine where to get valid information. Online threats, disinformation about voting and attempts at cyberattacks on systems all represent threats to the democratic election process.
Both local and Federal election officials have made it a point of emphasis to educate voters on the security of election systems and assure voters of the integrity of the process.
What the Feds are saying
The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) say that the election infrastructure is secure, but there are other ways for threat actors to undermine confidence in election security. FBI and CISA have released back-to-back public service announcements to enhance voters’ faith in the process, warning of potential attempts to manipulate information or spread disinformation leading up to the midterms and revealing how to protect yourself.
The agencies say that they have not seen any “reporting to suggest cyber activity has ever prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, compromised the integrity of any ballots cast, or affected the accuracy of voter registration information.” The FBI and CISA note that any attempts tracked by them have remained localized and blocked or successfully mitigated with minimal or no disruption to election processes.
However, threats are still present and the FBI and CISA say that election systems continue to be the target of interest for malicious threat actors. Further, foreign actors could intensify their efforts to influence the 2022 midterm elections through the circulation or amplification of reports of—either real or alleged—malicious cyber activity on election infrastructure.
This could be done through a wide array of online outlets, including spoofed websites, emails and text messages to spread disinformation or claim successful cyber compromises of election infrastructure.
“The public should be aware that election officials use a variety of technological, physical, and procedural controls to mitigate the likelihood of malicious cyber activity (e.g., phishing, ransomware, denial of service, or domain spoofing) affecting the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of election infrastructure systems or data that would alter votes or otherwise disrupt or prevent voting,” the first joint PSA said.
What you can do to protect yourself
There are many tactics that can be taken to protect oneself from disinformation and lies about election integrity, as well as protecting from cyber threat actors online.
Information on voter registration, polling locations, voting by mail, the provisional ballot process and final election results should be sought from state and local government officials, the FBI and CISA recommend. Voters should also stay alert to election-related schemes to impede election administration and be wary of spoofed emails and phone calls making suspicious claims about the validity of the election process. Voters should remain cautious of social media posts that “appear to spread inconsistent information about election-related incidents or results.”
Voters should also not attempt to communicate with unsolicited email senders, open attachments from unknown individuals or provide personal information via email without verifying the requester’s identity. Being wary of websites not affiliated with local or state governments that solicit voting information can help you stay secure, as well. It’s always a smart idea to review your company’s cyber or phishing guidelines, if you can.
When it comes to reports of voter information or compromises, verify this through multiple, reliable sources and consider searching for more reliable sources before sharing such information on social media or elsewhere.
Lastly, if you see something, say something. If you recognize a potential crime, like cyber targeting of voting systems, report this to your local FBI Field Office. Additionally, report cyber-related incidents on election infrastructure to your local election officials and CISA.