KSL INVESTIGATES

Gephardt: Emails offering election results may include malware

Nov 5, 2020, 5:58 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – As Americans await the results in several key races, including President of the United States, cyber thieves are trying to capitalize with emails laden with malware.

Experts said anytime you have people craving information but the information just isn’t there, it’s an opportunity for bad guys to pounce. 

Cybercriminals are trying to elbow-in to the information vacuum, sending out links that promise to provide election results but end up tricking computer users into downloading malware, said Randy Pargman. 

Pargman is a former FBI senior computer scientist who spent 15 years investigating prominent cybercrimes. He served on the FBI’s Cyber Task Force in Seattle and Cyber Action Team global response unit. He is now the senior director of threat hunting for Binary Defense, helping companies keep bad guys out. 

He said we are in a scary time for a lot of businesses because all it takes is one employee clicking on a malware link and some hacker could end up locking the company out of its own system. The hacker will then refuse to hand over the keys to get back in unless the business pays – a lot.

“Ransomware is normally asking for multiple millions of dollars, and they’re getting it,” Pargman said. “Companies are willing to pay that because they’re so dependent on their IT systems to function that they are hoping to get control of their systems back or to avoid release of stolen information.” 

Compounding the problem in 2020 is Americans working from home. Pargman said he’s seeing people and companies letting their security protocols soften.

“A lot of I.T. people are stretched really thin just trying to make all the remote work happen and keep interruptions from happening,” he said. “So they don’t have all the time to look after the security that they normally would.” 

Pargman said the best advice is to seek out election news from reputable news agencies and avoid clicking on links in emails or on social media. 

Pargman said the tactic of locking up all of the computers across the board and then asking for extraordinary ransom payments, is a relatively new occurrence and certainly goes well beyond the election cycle. 

“Know that you are going to be targeted at some point and just watching for that,” Pargman said. “There will be some warning signs. Look for those warning signs.”

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Gephardt: Emails offering election results may include malware