Ransomware attacks are on the rise, and with November's presidential election quickly approaching, federal authorities are raising the alarm that voting operations could be threatened.
A Justice Department official told the Associated Press it's more likely a hacker would be able to prevent an election system from operating than to change votes. Either way, voter confidence is at stake.
A report from a cybersecurity vendor last month found many state and local election officials use vulnerable email systems. More than half of the thousands of analyzed election administrators were found to be using "rudimentary or non-standard" technologies to protect from phishing scams — the most common way ransomware is spread.
And the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the problem, depleting state election budgets. Money that would usually go toward cyber security is being spent on safety and sanitation measures.
Congress could provide additional election funding in the next coronavirus relief bill, but the most recent proposal from Senate Republicans did not include any.
Additional reporting by Eric Tucker, Christina A. Cassidy and Frank Bajak of the Associated Press.