As we move closer to the U.S. elections the term ransomware is being used more within the media. Let me provide some clarity on the meaning of this and the differences between ransomware and the more general term, malware. I will also delve in on how this is directly connected to disinformation.  

Bottom line Ransomware is malware. Malware is a form of software that was developed to conduct nefarious activities upon a victim’s machine. Ransomware falls under the broader category of malware, however, ransomware goes beyond conducting nefarious activities. Typically it will encrypt your data and require a ransom for you to be able to retrieve your data — hence the name ‘Ransom’ware.

So why is there a growing concern about eCriminals encrypting voter data?

How can ransomware be tied into disinformation? Here are my theories on ransomware and disinformation against the U.S. elections.

Disinformation versus Misinformation. These two terms are not interchangeable. 

Disinformation = false information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media

Misinformation = false or inaccurate information, shared without intent to mislead (Think social media sharing)

The threat actors who could target U.S. elections are focused on sowing discord by creating a lack of trust within our voting systems and inherently the government. Ransomware is one way they can sow discord and create a rift between voters and the government. A way this could be accomplished is by using ransomware to freeze up local voter systems and therefore delay voter tally.  

Another cause and effect of a ransomware attack would be the flow of disinformation. The threat actor could attack voter systems with Ransomware, locking up the systems then begin sharing disinformation through social media platforms target specific geolocation as to where the attack happened. The next thing you know, social media users are now sharing this story not knowing it was false news and now we have a viral misinformation campaign.  

Remember that the threat you may initially see may not be the end result. Ransomware is only a pawn in the bigger picture. Encrypting data is not our problem, it’s the possible fallout from the encryption of data caused by misinformation and therefore causing distrust.