US, Canadian officials wary of cyber-criminals tampering with elections

News by Doug Olenick and Teri Robinson

Canada's CSE warns about attempts by foreign actors to influence the election in October; US homeland security alerts about phishing attempts that might target state and local election systems

Threat of a possible cyber-sabotage of elections looms large over North America as election season arrives, officials acknowledge.

A US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official warned a gathering of secretaries of state to beware of phishing attempts that might target their state and local election systems and workers. 

The Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has warned the nation’s elected officials of attempts by foreign actors to influence the country’s upcoming election on 21 October, according to published reports.

The CSE, Canada’s primary cyber defense agency, has briefed staffers of at least one political party of overt and covert attempts to influence the election, The Toronto Star reported.

The CSE threat report was backed up by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) which warned threat actors are trying to sway citizens in the run up to Election Day, The Star said.

Exactly which groups were attempting this and their methods was not revealed, but the Star received an email from a CSIS spokesperson that said: "Threat actors are seeking to influence the Canadian public and interfere with Canada’s democratic institutions and processes."

Meanwhile, the US authoritoes have spotted phishing campaigns that target state and local government network ahead of the elections.

"We know that phishing is how a significant number of state and local government networks become exploited," an ABC News report cited Geoff Hale, director of the DHS Election Security Initiative, as saying. "Understanding your organization’s susceptibility to phishing is one of the biggest things you can do."

Some of the officials present, like Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, already have identified the dangers presented by phishing, particularly when the targets are employees who may not be properly trained up.

"If they get into the courthouse, they can then get into the county auditor, which is our elections folks — and that’s not a good thing," Pate said in the report.

This article was originally published on SC Media US.

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