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Misinformation: Check the source!
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Misinformation: Check the source!

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Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir
6 min read ∙ Sep 22, 2022
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All grand political elections create an opportunity for spreading misinformation. The U.S. midterm elections are near. We must pay special attention to the opportunity this presents to scammers, fraudsters, and people with political mal-intent in mind. Serious allegations have been made about the possible meddling in democratic elections on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a good reason to raise awareness on the multiple ways malicious actors can muddy the waters with misinformation.  

Still from AwareGO's video about misinformation. Muddy water inside a glass water bottle.

Information Interrupted

During past election seasons, we have seen an increase in the spread of misinformation and disinformation. When making up our minds about whom to support in a democratic election, we rely on various sources. From social media, conversations with friends, discussions with canvassers, and news outlets, to the official platform politicians run on.

However, sometimes things are being spread that are not exactly the truth. They may be close to the truth, a misinterpretation of the truth, or they may be outright lies.

Misinformation: When something is unintentionally presented as a fact. 

Disinformation: When something is deliberately presented as a fact.  

Still from AwareGO's cybersecurity training video about misinformation. A couple on camping trip walk by a stream that has given them muddy drinking water.
The Internet is like an endless river from where you can gather information.
But like with rivers, it’s best to check the source before you consume the water.

Whether intentionally or not, there are many ways false or misleading information spreads. During election season, it is important to be familiar with how to recognize the signs. That’s why it is good to be familiar with the most common ways misinformation and disinformation comes into circulation:

  • Clickbait – A headline is more sensationalized than the article’s content warrants. This is done to gain social media engagement, but it can distort the truth.
  • Misleading headlines – Headlines that don’t look too exaggerated but are still misleading or present the story in a different light from the actual content. 
  • Satire and parody – Meant to be just for fun but might look like the truth to some.

Deepfakes and elections

We are also seeing new ways to muddy the waters with new technologies. For example, deepfake technologies have been rapidly advancing. These can give fraudsters and other malicious actors tools to imitate everyone, including politicians. A deepfake enables malicious actors to pretend to be someone else – even on live streams. By using artificial intelligence they can become almost impeccable copies in every aspect of another person.

Still from AwareGO security awareness video about misinformation. A yellow hose with muddy water coming from it is leaking into a clear stream.
There are always people and groups who are willing to muddy the waters with misinformation or disinformation.

If you’re unsure whether something is the truth there are multiple search engines and websites dedicated to finding the crux of the matter like Snopes and Google Factcheck. If something sounds unbelievable or just seems a bit off, it’s always better to ask for a second opinion!

Beware of mid-term donation scams!

But it’s not only misinformation or disinformation that malicious actors are in for during election season. Not-for-profit organizations and political action committees (PAC) are already in full swing to fundraise for their candidate. This creates a perfect environment for scammers to strike. In recent years, there has been an increase in fundraising scams, where scammers pretend to represent a cause or politicians. 

The PAC scams are on the rise and can be difficult to combat, as they don’t have to adhere to same laws and regulations as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) or NPOs (nonprofit organization). PACs can be used for fraud in several ways.

A still from AwareGO's cybersecurity training video about Vishing aka Voice Phishing or phone scams.
PAC telemarketing scams use misinformation to trick people into donating money or giving out personal information.
  • PAC scams – Solicit donations through pre-filled online forms, a questionable practice where the scammers hide permission for a recurring donation in the form, but the donor was under the impression it was a one-time occurrence.
  • PAC telemarketing scams – Target the elderly and vulnerable groups by soliciting donations by cold-calling and presenting a cause that is highly misleading or simply a full fabrication. 

Avoid being tricked by a PAC Scam. Here are some basic tips:

  • Only give to the official political platform of a candidate or a cause, never through a platform that somehow claims to be affiliated to said cause. A legit PAC organization will ask for your national identity and your work, since they are legally not allowed to accept donations from foreign nationals and national contractors.
  • If you get a telemarketer soliciting donations and are interested in the cause, always ask for the organization’s webpage and tell them that you will check it out. “No” is a full answer. Don’t feel pressured into giving anything on the spot, especially not some kind of personal information.
  • Always check the webpage of the PAC organization for any red flags. Is it the official webpage of a political candidate or a cause? Do they refrain from showing pictures of the candidates? 

Before you donate, make sure that you’re donating to a legitimate PAC organization. The Federal Election Commission of USA has a database you can check out here.

Stay safe from muddy waters during election time!

To help you stay safe from misinformation and disinformation during the upcoming election cycle, AwareGO has released an awareness video on misinformation and the importance of checking the source of any claim. This is especially important when we are dealing with PAC scams at a record high, deepfakes, and sensationalized headlines used to drive social media engagement but instead create a misleading narrative.

AwareGO produces cybersecurity training and awareness videos on multiple topics. Misinformation is a social issue as well as a cybersecurity issue.

This video was, like all of AwareGO’s cybersecurity training videos, filmed in Iceland, where most streams are safe to drink from. No Icelandic nature was harmed during the filming of this video.

Cybersecurity is not just about password strength or being able to spot a phishing email. It is also about being able to critically consume content. Knowing that just because something has been written and published online, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true. 

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Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir
6 min read ∙ Sep 22, 2022

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