Weekly Roundup: US Presidential Elections are Unsafe and Facebook Users are Declining

In this weekly roundup, we will discuss how safe or unsafe it is to use mail-in votes considering some countries (maybe Russia or Iran) can launch a cyberattack, how Facebook is becoming a boring platform for users because it is too politicized, and how mobile apps for kids are collecting user data. 

There’s so much to discuss, so let’s jump right into the cybersecurity mud pool. 

Will the United States Blame Russia Again after the Elections? 

Many US Senators accused their archrivals Russia (and sometimes North Korea) of interfering in US Presidential Elections. But the question still remains: can a country truly interfere in another country’s elections? The answer may not strike a chord with some people and it is not entirely straight if we are being perfectly honest with you. 

We discussed previously how cyberattackers are stealing bank account details by sending fake voter forms via email. In fact, an election database was hacked and the attackers had access to each user. More recently, a Texas company that is in the election business was targeted in a ransomware attack. So, the attackers can confuse you by showing bogus election results but in reality someone else might be winning the election.  

Imagine the repercussions of this if it actually happens: Democrats might be watching the news and celebrating a win even though they have lost the election. The cyberattackers can freeze the voting results and election polls, or worse, they can even get a hold of computers that the secretaries of state are using. Many things could happen and we don’t want to get into damage control. 

There is no way to tell whether the attacks on the user database are merely to get a ransom or if it’s because Russia wants to cripple election servers and alter the results. Even if the votes are legitimate, a cyberattack can delay the vote count and make citizens think that the elections were rigged. This is an example of perception of a hack (or social hack in simpler terms).  

At this stage in the game, US citizens are hardwired to think that Russians (government or hacking groups) are behind every ransomware attack. This is one thing that the Russians have managed to do: make every US citizen hate them for every cyberattack and when things go south in the United States. 

Let’s Talk about the Real Scoop

The voting machines are potentially air-gapped, which means they are not connected to the internet. But they might connect a voting machine to the internet at some point to transfer user data, and this is where things get dangerous. Maybe the enemies of the US can launch a virus that keeps multiplying and hopping to every voting machine, and this might change the election result. 

You may call us super paranoid after reading this, but cyberattackers can reprogram the ballot scanners to count every vote in Trump’s favor instead of Biden. It sounds a bit far-fetched but it is still a possibility. The US Secretary of State is fearful of the fact that a single security loophole can impact voting in all major/minor states.   

Here is our advice for US citizens who wish to make their votes count:

  1. Return your vote ballot in person if you have it in your possession right now. (Come on, you have less than a day left!
  2. Track your ballot if you have used mail-in votes by Googling your state name and ballot tracker.
  3. Go to a nearby polling station and cast your vote in person.

The bottom line is…

You can’t stop a ransomware attack, even the US government can’t so make sure you vote for the right candidate. But you can show up:

via GIPHY

Not Another Cambridge Analytica Debacle 

According to recent news, Facebook has learned from its past mistakes, and this time around, they’re not mingling with the US Presidential Elections. To that end, the most popular social media platform rejected up to 2.2 million ads that may impact voter manipulation. 

In the 2016 US Presidential Elections, misinformation was rife, which is why Facebook was accused of manipulating the outcome. We think that more can be done, though:  Mark Zuckerberg can really become a flagbearer of transparency by disclosing the money source of these paid ads. In short, we are suggesting Facebook to trail the money just like Officer Jimmy McNulty used to say in The Wire: trail the money and you get the criminal. 

Facebook users can see for themselves which party, Democrat or Republican, is coalescing these paid ads. The bittersweet question: how many ads did Facebook actually approve? Are they leading to voter manipulation or not? Who is campaigning the most on Facebook, Biden or Trump? 

Facebook Users Are Leaving the Platform Every Day

Even if both parties are campaigning on Facebook, the platform has experienced a decline in users, especially in the United States. There is too much misinformation on Facebook related to the pandemic, voter forms, as well as in other world news that users are deleting their accounts. If you take a step up and analyze the Facebook algorithm then you might come up with a few things about the real goal of the platform: 

  • Collecting your information (name, address, blood type, or shadow accounts)
  • Understanding your interests, likes, and dislikes
  • Knowing your past and current relationships 
  • Learning the type of information you prefer to seek

Let’s cut to the chase here, the platform’s strategy is to create artificial human models and encourage you to use Facebook as long as you can (watch The Social Dilemma and you will get it). Their secret sauce is invading your online privacy and making you an addict without even you realizing it. So, as Gary Vee says, “self-awareness is key,” and we agree.   

What’s the Worst Part about Facebook?

Facebook has truly no control over this when there are 300 million photos shared every single day. We get it. There are many obscene groups that share child abuse images and sexual content that is inappropriate for teenagers and even aging adults. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

The Facebook algorithm allows such images and videos to pass through the filter system because guess what, people are searching for it. You have an option to report any obscene image, post, or page to the Facebook authorities and they will gladly remove it. But there is still a massive number of posts and images that slips past the moderators and systems. 

Facebook is a vendor… oops we mean… a platform that sells information and advertising space. Let us skip the latter because you may already know it and spread about personal information here because this is what matters for every user. If you delete your Facebook account and think that, “Hell yeah, no more tracking”, let us stop you right there and tell you that you are wrong. Spoiler alert. 

Even when you are done with Facebook and wish to delete your account, the system will create a shadow account in case you want to rejoin the network. These shadow accounts are run and operated by AI algorithms, or robots as we like to call it. We find AI-controlled platforms terrifying. After all, the algorithms work on their own and there are no real humans behind the system to verify your request to post child abuse images, which is why they’re all over the network. And now they are still trailing you when you’ve deleted your account. 

The same Facebook algorithm is used on Instagram. If you don’t believe us, then click the search option on your Instagram profile and you will see tons of suggested posts of sneakers and fitness products. 

Their AI-driven algorithms predict what you want to see and show aesthetically pleasing images. Simply put, you are feeding information to a robot who uses it to predict your human behavior and show you exactly what you want to see. Some may call it “new technology” while others might say “robots will take over the earth pretty soon and control us.” 

Google Removed Gaming Apps over Privacy Concerns

Kids install anything that looks shiny and gloomy, but little do they know that there are people with plans to steal information very easily. In fact, this happened with 3 mobile apps for kids, Princess Salon, Number Coloring, and Cats & Cosplay

Google was cool enough to remove these mobile apps from the Play Store after knowing for a fact that these apps were collecting your data illegally. (The app owners were collecting information even when the privacy policy mentioned no use of data.) If you were top-ranked on Princess Salon or live streaming these games on Twitch, then you have no choice, my gamer friend, but to uninstall these mobile apps if you are an Android phone user.  

It may sound ironic that Google is taking action against mobile apps that collect data when they were also accused of using and selling user information to the highest bidder. The problem lies among users, that  is, you and I, who don’t read the privacy policy or terms and conditions before using any mobile app or service. Even the big guns aren’t free from scrutiny:

How come you know about Cambridge Analytica now when the company was exploiting Facebook for years and getting voter information? Because someone took a stand and followed a trail as to what really happens with our information. That’s why Facebook and Google are trying to weed out bad election campaigns and privacy-intruding mobile apps so they can keep their hands clean. 

This is the reason why we, the PureVengers, share a drumbeat of cyberattacks and hacking news every week to help you understand what really happens online. We’ve got our finger on the pulse on how the governments, surveillance agencies, and IT companies can fool online users like us, so we tell you how to protect yourself.

 

Sameed Ajax Sameed is a Digital Content Producer at PureVPN who covers cybersecurity, streaming, and weekly news. Besides that, he wastes time playing FIFA, eating pizza, and sending tweets.

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