The US Capitol building with a waving American flag superimposed on the sky Capitol Hill in Washington DC

US offers $10m bounty on hackers targeting 2020 election

Image credit: Photovs/Dreamstime

The US Department of State is offering rewards of up to $10m (£7.6m) for information on foreign interference in its elections.

The initiative is open to anyone who can provide information “leading to the identification or location of any person who works with or for a foreign government for the purpose of interfering with US elections through certain illegal cyber activities”. The announcement was made less than 100 days before the 2020 US Presidential Election, where incumbent Donald Trump will face off against Democrat candidate Joe Biden. 

The Department of State said the reward is valid for any form of election hacking, at any level, such as elections held at the federal, state, or local level as well. It added those operating malicious cyber operations targeting such elections or campaigns may be prosecuted under its Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

“Foreign adversaries could employ malicious cyber operations targeting election infrastructure, including voter registration databases and voting machines, to impair an election in the United States,” the State Department said. “Such adversaries could also conduct malicious cyber operations against US political organisations or campaigns to steal confidential information and then leak that information as part of influence operations to undermine political organisations or candidates.”

According to the department, the aim is to catch and prosecute any foreign state-sponsored hackers. It adds that actions such as accessing voter registration databases, interfering with voting infrastructure or stealing or leaking confidential information are “unusual and extraordinary threats to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. 

The reward will be paid through the department’s “Rewards for Justice” programme, and only applies to the information provided about the activities of hackers associated with foreign governments that may try to meddle in the US election process.

This is the third major reward offered for information on hackers through the programme. In April, the government offered a $5m (£3.8m) reward for information leading to the identification and capture of North Korean government hackers. US officials found North Korean hackers responsible for a large number of cyber attacks focused on financial gain in recent years, most outside the normal spectrum of intelligence gathering.

In addition, in July, the State Department also offered its second major rewards for foreign hackers when it offered two separate $1m rewards for information on two Ukrainian hackers linked to a breach at the US Security and Exchange Commission in 2016.

With the Presidential election just months away, the subject of foreign interference in US politics remains an issue. The “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference, as described in the 2019 Mueller report, is thought to have boosted Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. There are concerns that there will be similar meddling ahead of the November election.

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