FBI: The 2020 Presidential Election Is Under Attack by Email Scammers

Phishing is the predominant modern cyber threat, and is currently undermining the security and integrity of the upcoming presidential election. Tensions surrounding the 2020 presidential election are higher than ever - presenting cyber thieves with the perfect environment to launch dangerous, timely phishing attacks designed to steal sensitive credentials and large sums of money from victims.

The FBI and CISA have warned: “Cybercriminals and malicious foreign actors are leveraging spoofed domains and email accounts to disseminate false information; gather valid usernames, passwords, and email addresses; collect personally identifiable information; and spread malware, leading to further compromises and potential financial losses.”

The 2016 presidential election - which was ravaged by spear phishing - should have served as a much-needed cybersecurity wake-up call. However, organizations have chosen to look the other way, continuing to rely on traditional, single-layered defenses like signature-based antivirus software and spam filters or built-in cloud email protection alone to secure their email. These primitive defenses are unable to anticipate and block emerging attacks - making them nowhere near sufficient to ensure a fair, secure election. The FBI reports that despite existing security defenses, 30% of phishing attempts are opened by target users. Clearly, more needs to be done to fortify email accounts against phishing and spoofing attacks - especially in this time of heightened risk.

The Current State of Election Security - Or Insecurity

Misinformation and disinformation campaigns designed to create panic, undermine trust and sway voting patterns are thriving during this especially polarized, pivotal election season. Phishers are posing as fundraisers, pollsters and candidates in sophisticated social engineering attacks designed to win voters’ trust - and personal information that can be used to initiate fraudulent wire transfers. These attacks are designed to capitalize on the chaos and confusion surrounding the 2020 presidential election, where cyber thieves then leverage that confusion with fake campaign finance emails or voter registration scams, convincing people to send “donations” instead to a rogue bank account, for example.

One notorious Arizona voter registration ‘error’ phishing scam informs recipients that their voter’s registration applications are incomplete, luring them into sharing Social Security numbers, license data and other personal information with attackers. The fraudulent emails sent in this campaign appear to come from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and contain a malicious URL leading to a spoofed web page that steals a variety of personal data including name, date of birth, mailing address, email address, Social Security number and driver’s license information. The page is carefully engineered to appear legitimate, and even includes images pulled from ServiceArizona’s official site.

Scammers are also impersonating political campaigns, asking recipients to donate money or volunteer their time. Guardian Digital has intercepted election-themed scam attempts targeted at recipients with Emotet spear phishing emails purporting to be from the Democratic National Committee, attempting to recruit volunteers. The fraudulent emails sent in this campaign contained malicious Word Document attachments labeled “Team Blue Take Action”, which infected victims’ systems with Emotet malware when downloaded. Emotet has historically exploited current events - most recently COVID; however, the threat actor behind the malware, TA542, has not directly leveraged political themes in their messaging prior to the 2020 election season.

With the election quickly approaching, fake political websites designed to steal personal and financial data are growing in number. Many of these fraudulent websites encourage users to sign up or ask for donations. Many can be very tricky to spot, as they use spoofed domains that appear to be legitimate. Users are most frequently led to these websites in phishing campaigns leveraging malicious URLs.

The Solution: Implement Intuitive, Multi-Layered Email Security Defenses - Now!

In order to secure email against spear phishing, ransomware and other malicious attacks that threaten election security, organizations must implement proactive, layered email security defense capable of protecting against both existing and emerging threats.

Defense in depth is essential in combating sophisticated modern email attacks. No single piece of security software can provide adequate protection in the context of today’s heightened digital threat environment. Rather, an effective approach to securing email accounts must involve multiple layers of advanced technologies and protocols engineered to work harmoniously in detecting and responding to the array of threats that challenge them. Because targeted phishing persists as a serious threat to election security, ensuring that malicious URL protection and email authentication protocols are implemented as part of an all-in-one email security solution is essential - as phishing scams frequently rely on malicious links and email spoofing.

For the majority of organizations, implementing a fully-managed solution accompanied by expert around-the-clock system monitoring, maintenance and support services can be highly beneficial - simplifying administration, enhancing security and freeing up additional time they can then devote to important matters besides email security.

Secondary to implementing effective email defenses, here are some tips and best practices for staying safe online this election season:

  • Avoid opening emails from unknown senders. Even if an email appears to be coming from a campaign, you’re better off donating by visiting the official campaign website.
  • Seek out information from trustworthy sources, verifying who produced the content and considering their intent.
  • Check political emails carefully for spelling and grammar errors.
  • Review the spelling of any URL you visit very carefully.
  • Never enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless absolutely necessary.
  • Use strong two-factor authentication (2FA) to protect your online accounts.
  • Ensure that operating systems and applications are updated and disable or remove unneeded software applications.

Guardian Digital CEO and email security expert Dave Wreski concludes, “With the 2020 presidential election rapidly approaching, election security is nowhere near where it needs to be. In order to secure the upcoming election, protect precious voting rights, and uphold the democracy upon which this nation was founded, it is crucial that organizations view email security as a top priority and ensure that they have implemented layered supplementary email defenses that they - and the nation as a whole - can count on.”


Learn about a threat-ready, fully-supported cloud email security solution capable of safeguarding your email heading into the 2020 election and beyond.

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