October 23, 2020

Georgia county election infrastructure hit by ransomware attack

By Ellen Daniel

A county in Georgia, the US has been hit by a ransomware attack that could be the first of its kind this presidential election season.

Hall County, a county located in north central Georgia, disclosed the attack on 7 October, and it has now emerged that the attack affected “critical systems” including a voter signature database and a voting precinct map, according to CNN.

Ransomware attacks occur when malicious software infects a computer and encrypts files, making them inaccesible. The attacker then demands the victim pays a sum of money for access to be restored.

CNN reported that it does not appear the election infrastructure was deliberately targeted in this instance, with Hall County government’s email and phone services also affected.

However, regardless of the motive, the attack could indicate the existence worrying vulnerabilities in the county’s cybersecurity infrastructure as the presidential election fast approaches, which may also exist in other other counties or states.

In September, Washington State was reportedly hit by a “sprawling, multifaceted cyberattack”, with several agencies infected with malware. Election systems did not appear affected.

Yesterday it was reported that Iran and Russia were behind threatening emails sent to Democratic voters.

Jake Moore, Cybersecurity Specialist at ESET said:

“Dealing with a ransomware attack at any time can be a stressful headache, but when it could potentially impact the future with an election, it soon turns up the heat. The American government will be on high alert to all kinds of cyberattacks over the next few days so awareness remains key for all staff.

“Although ransomware is usually financially motivated, it can also be used as a disruptor as there are malicious actors who revel in watching organisations, political parties or businesses fall to their knees.That said, Trump said earlier this week that “nobody gets hacked”, so it will be interesting to see if he were to use this excuse if he doesn’t win another term in the presidential office.”


Read more: US government offers $10m reward for information on election interference.