In 2016, Russian hackers compromised systems that validate the eligibility of voters to cast their ballots. Intelligence officials now fear these foreign hackers will also attempt to manipulate or destroy election data in 2020.

Election Databases, Systems At Risk Of Ransomware Attack

Amid this concern, the U.S. government plans to launch a program aimed at protecting voter registration databases and systems before hackers could jeopardize the 2020 presidential election.

Senior U.S. officials think the systems are high risk given that they are regularly connected to the internet. The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Homeland Security Department particularly fears that a ransomware could target the databases.

A ransomware attack involves a computer virus that locks up an infected computer and demands a ransom payment, usually in the form of a cryptocurrency.

Earlier this month, a ransomware crippled the computer systems in more than 20 government offices in Texas.

"Recent history has shown that state and county governments and those who support them are targets for ransomware attacks," said CISA director Christopher Krebs.

Protecting Integrity Of 2020 Presidential Election

CISA is now working with election officials and their private sector partners to protect their databases and provide response to possible ransomware attacks.

Local governments that store and update voter registration data are typically ill-equipped to protect themselves from elite hackers, and while state election officials have improved the cyber defenses since 2016, no common standard is provided for how often local government should create backups.

The CISA program will reach out to state election officials to prepare for a potential ransomware scenario. It will provide them with educational material, remote computer penetration testing, and vulnerability scans.

It will also give recommendations to prevent and recover from an attack, albeit the guidelines will not offer advice if a state should pay ransom if one of its systems is infected.

A potential attack raises concern because of how it could impact voting results. Experts said that an undetected pre-election attack could tamper with the voter list, as well as create huge confusion and delays that could compromise the validity of the election.

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