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Security

Campaign 2018: New malware attacks target voters in key battleground states

Ransomware, adware and suspicious applications are on the rise ahead of the midterm election.

With less than two weeks to go until the 2018 midterm election, malicious software is on the rise in at least eight key battleground states.

Hackers are using Trojans, ransomware and "suspicious" data-sniffing applications like adware, according to new data from cyberdefense firm Comodo. To varying degrees, the different types of malware have a variety of missions. But overall, malicious software is designed to disrupt the election and suppress the vote.

"Hackers use apps that carry adware technology as part of a two-pronged attack. First they gather information about the target, then they use that data to send phishing attacks," says Kenneth Geers, chief research scientist at Comodo Cybersecurity and former NATO cybersecurity ambassador.

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Data: Kenneth Geers / Comodo

Starting in July, Comodo detected a spike in Trojans deployed in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Comodo detected a dramatic increase in malicious software like ransomware and adware in Minnesota, Missouri and New Jersey, states with tight congressional races. The intent, says Geers, is to harvest data on campaigns and voters, then use that data to launch targeted follow-up attacks.

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Data: Kenneth Geers / Comodo

It's nearly impossible to attribute the rise in malware ahead of the midterm election to any one particular actor. Forensic experts in the US government are pursuing several leads. The breadcrumb trail of digital clues is likely to lead back to a large nation-state like China or Russia.

"The NSA and CIA are going to move heaven and earth to acquire attribution because it's what they do," says Geers.

For more on how hackers may affect the upcoming midterms, read the full story on CBS News.

Campaign 2018: Election Hacking is a weekly series from CBS News and CNET about the cyberthreats and vulnerabilities of the 2018 midterm election.

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