Americans should be prepared for bad actors to exploit the extra time needed to determine the results of the presidential election this November, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned Tuesday.
In a joint alert, the FBI and DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency cautioned about possible attempts to attack the legitimacy of the electoral process continuing after the last vote is cast.
The heightened use of mail-in ballots due to the novel coronavirus pandemic “could leave officials with incomplete results on election night,” Nov. 3, the federal agencies acknowledged in the alert.
“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy,” the alert said.
Malicious actors might also interfere in the voting process in the weeks leading up to Election Day by similarly pushing disinformation through multiple avenues online, the agencies warned in the alert.
In addition to using social media services to spread misinformation as seen during the 2016 race, the agencies told Americans to be wary of bogus information appearing on new and established websites alike.
“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions,” the alert said.
“The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials,” the agencies continued. “The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cyber criminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.”
Federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies have assessed Russians interfered in the 2016 elections by spreading misinformation on social media and participating in state-sponsored hacking.
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned last month that Russia is actively interfering in the 2020 race. It also voiced concerns about threats posed by China and Iran as well.
Millions of Americans are set to vote by mail this fall due to safety measures and protocols in place because of COVID-19, the contagious and potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Republican incumbent President Trump is competing against Democratic challenger Joseph R. Biden on Election Day. Contests for hundreds of other local, state and federal elections will take place then as well.