As the U.S. presidential elections approach, the activity of hackers has also increased. But this time hackers are handing over U.S. voter information to the Department of Justice in exchange for rewards.

As per a report by a Russian news outlet, users on the dark web are selling information of American voters of Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Arkansas. While the information can be provided to adversaries who could use that to meddle in the U.S. election process, the DoJ has come up with a preventive measure.

The DoJ is offering payment up to $10 million through its 'Reward for Justice' program for any information that could prevent foreign interference in the upcoming U.S. Elections. The reward has encouraged hackers to turn the databases over to the DoJ. One of the users who handed over a link to a Connecticut database earned $4,000 from the program.

US Elections 2020
As the U.S. goes to poll in November, Russia, China and Iran are allegedly trying to influence the outcome (representational image) Pixabay

Text Messages

The DoJ sends text messages to people in other countries urging people for information in exchange for a reward. The program was initially designed to thwart terrorist attacks but now amid allegations of Russian interference in U.S. Elections, it has turned its attention to prevent that from happening.

"RFJ is offering up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of any person who, while acting at the direction of or under the control of a foreign government, interferes with any U.S. federal, state, or local elections," the text message reads as per Newsweek. The reward program has paid over $150 million to more than 100 people so far. The DoJ confirmed the legitimacy of the messages to Reuters in August. It said that the messages were part of "a worldwide campaign in multiple languages."

Foreign Interference in 2016 Elections

There have been allegations that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections through Facebook ad campaigns and spreading misinformation. Russian hackers allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee servers while they were also behind the email leaks of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The email leaks had a big impact on the outcome of the election.

Even former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director and DoJ Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report stated that the "Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

DoJ Reward Program
U.S. Department of Justice is sending text messages in other countries announcing a reward in exchange for information US DoJ

Facebook also admitted to hosting false advertisements that could have swayed voters in key battleground states in the 2016 elections. The social media giant in a 2017 statement said that it had taken down around 3,000 ads on the basis of "false amplification" that were linked to fake accounts. "Our analysis suggests these accounts and Pages were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia," it added.

2020 Elections

For the November 2020 Elections, the threats of potential meddling have multiplied with Iran and China also trying to interfere besides Russia. In July, the U.S. Counterintelligence Director William Evanina warned of possible interference in the upcoming elections.

"Today, we see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates and other political targets. Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure," he said.

Hence, the DoJ believes adversaries can launch cyberattacks against U.S. political parties to steal information and then leak those documents to influence opinions against a candidate or organization. Through its reward program, DoJ wants to mitigate the risk by paying the hackers and prevent the information going to the wrong hands.

"Foreign adversaries could employ malicious cyber operations targeting election infrastructure, including voter registration databases and voting machines, to impair an election in the U.S.," the DoJ in its reward website.