Risk at the ballot boxes in 2024 - study finds many local US governments severely lacking in protection as election looms

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The lack of adequate staff and a proper budget are placing the security of this year’s US elections at great risk, new research has warned, with this risk is further compounded by a rise in the number of threat actors, and the tools at their disposal.

A report from Arctic Wolf surveying 130 state and local government leaders in the US, including those responsible for IT and cybersecurity systems, found many local governments operate with limited staff which is “stretched thin” between the overload of their day-to-day activities, and the extra work that comes with preparing for the elections. 

As a result, more than half of the respondents feel completely unprepared (or just “somewhat” prepared) to detect and recover from election-targeted cyber incidents.

Abusing AI

Funding is also an issue. More than a third (36%) said their budget is “inadequate” compared to the risks they’re expecting during the 2024 election cycle. 

This risk is further increased by the rise in threat actors, both nation-state ones and others, as well as the tools at their disposal. Almost half of the survey’s respondents (47.1%) are expecting a “significant uptick in the volume of attacks” compared to four years ago. Their tools have also become more dangerous - especially AI-powered ones. 

With the help of AI tools, hackers can create believable fake content (deepfakes, for example), generate misleading narratives, manipulate the media, and that way even sway election outcomes. “By analyzing vast datasets, threat actors can glean insights into a person’s political affiliations, preferences, and even recent online activities, allowing them to create deceptive messages that appear trustworthy, with the goal of deceiving individuals into disclosing sensitive information,” the researchers concluded.

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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.