2020 Elections: Ransomware attacks on voter registration databases and systems feared by cybersecurity officials

The U.S. government will launch a program about a month from now to help state officials prevent ransomware attacks on voter registration databases and systems, ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency program is designed to teach state election officials how they can prevent ransomware infestations and other internet-based attacks that represent as an increasingly grave threat to election security.

Voter registration databases are particularly ripe targets for ransomware, a type of attack in which the attacker sends a virus that can cripple entire city computer networks.

Such incidents have already happened in major cities throughout the United States, most recently in Texas, Baltimore, MD, and Atlanta, GA.

CISA won't be offering states "advice on whether a state should ultimately pay or refuse to pay ransom to a hacker if one of its systems is already infected," Reuters reports:

These systems, which are widely used to validate the eligibility of voters before they cast ballots, were compromised in 2016 by Russian hackers seeking to collect information. Intelligence officials are concerned that foreign hackers in 2020 not only will target the databases but attempt to manipulate, disrupt or destroy the data, according to current and former U.S. officials.

"We assess these systems as high risk," said a senior U.S. official, because they are one of the few pieces of election technology regularly connected to the Internet.

(…) "Recent history has shown that state and county governments and those who support them are targets for ransomware attacks," said Christopher Krebs, CISA's director. "That is why we are working alongside election officials and their private sector partners to help protect their databases and respond to possible ransomware attacks."

"It is imperative that states and municipalities limit the availability of information about electoral systems or administrative processes and secure their websites and databases that could be exploited," the FBI said in a statement, supporting the Homeland Security initiative.

U.S. officials fear ransomware attack against 2020 election [Christopher Bing, Reuters. IMAGE: Shutterstock]