Two of the U.S. government’s cybercrime bodies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), have issued a warning to voters to help them recognise and avoid spoofed election-related domain names and email accounts during the 2020 election year.
In their announcement, the FBI’s IC3 and CISA say spoofed domain names and email accounts are leveraged by foreign actors and cybercriminals. These can be easily mistaken for legitimate websites or emails. While they don’t name the foreign adversaries, there are numerous security and media reports to suggest one of the prime “foreign actors” interfering and meddling to interfere in the US election and help Trump’s re-election bid is Russian, but there are also Chinese and Iranian actors believed to be intervening.
To do their interference, adversaries can use spoofed domain names 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.
Cyber actors set up spoofed domains with slightly altered characteristics of legitimate domains. A spoofed domain may feature an alternate spelling of a word (“electon” instead of “election”), or use an alternative top-level domain, such as a “[.]com” version of a legitimate “[.] gov” website. Members of the public could unknowingly visit spoofed domains while seeking information regarding the 2020 election. Additionally, cyber actors may use a seemingly legitimate email account to entice the public into clicking on malicious files or links.
The FBI and CISA are urging all members of the American public to critically evaluate the websites they visit and the emails sent to their personal and business email accounts, to seek out reliable and verified information on election information.
The FBI and CISA offer the following recommendations to help Americans avoid the foreign interference:
- Verify the spelling of web addresses, websites, and email addresses that look trustworthy but may be close imitations of legitimate election websites.
- Seek out information from trustworthy sources, verifying who produced the content and considering their intent. The Election Assistance Commission (https://www.eac.gov) provides a vast amount of verified information and resources.
- Ensure operating systems and applications are updated to the most current versions.
- Update anti-malware and anti-virus software and conduct regular network scans.
- Do not enable macros on documents downloaded from an email unless absolutely necessary, and only then, after ensuring the file is not malicious.
- Disable or remove unneeded software applications.
- Use strong two-factor authentication if possible, via biometrics, hardware tokens, or authentication apps.
- Do not open e-mails or attachments from unknown individuals. Do not communicate with unsolicited e-mail senders.
- Never provide personal information of any sort via e-mail. Be aware that many e-mails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.
The FBI encourages the public to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local field office (www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices) or to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov). For additional assistance, best practices, and common terms, please visit the following websites:
- Protected Voices: www.fbi.gov/investigate/counterintelligence/foreign-influence/protected-voices
- Election Crimes and Security: www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/election-crimes-and-security
- #Protect2020: www.cisa.gov/protect2020