[Update, Oct. 21: United States national security officials said that Iran and Russia had obtained American voter registration data, and that Iran had used the information to send threatening, faked emails to voters.]
Voters in Florida and Alaska reported receiving menacing and misleading emails on Tuesday that used false claims about public voting info to threaten voters: “Vote for Trump on Election Day or we’ll come after you.” (There isn’t any manner for any group to know for whom particular person voters solid their ballots.)
One of the emails, obtained by The New York Times, got here from an tackle that recommended an affiliation with the Proud Boys, a far-right group. But metadata from the e-mail exhibits that it didn’t come from the displayed e mail tackle — “[email protected]” — however as a substitute originated from an Estonian e mail server.
The e mail obtained by The Times had been despatched to a voter in Gainesville, Fla., and was almost similar to dozens of others that had been reported in the town. Voters in Brevard County, Fla., and Anchorage, Alaska, additionally reported receiving related emails.
Mayor Lauren Poe of Gainesville mentioned in an interview that the emails have been “a really brutish manner of making an attempt to intimidate individuals from going to the polls,” however that not one of the voters he had talked to appeared to have been fooled.
“Most individuals who had gotten it realized that it was a rip-off and that there was actually no manner individuals have been going to search out out who you vote for,” Mr. Poe mentioned. “So now I feel persons are just a bit irritated by it, or suppose it’s type of comical how ham-fisted it was — however don’t appear very panicked.”
Federal and native regulation enforcement authorities in Florida are investigating the emails, and have put out alerts on social media to warn voters.
“We right here on the Sheriff’s Office and the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections are conscious of an e mail that’s circulating, presupposed to be from the Proud Boys,” the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook. “The e mail seems to be a rip-off and we might be initiating an investigation into the supply of the e-mail together with help from our companions on the federal stage.”
Christopher C. Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, said on Twitter that the company was “conscious of threatening emails with deceptive information in regards to the secrecy of your vote.”
“Ballot secrecy is assured by regulation in all states,” Mr. Krebs added. “These emails are supposed to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections.”
T.J. Pyche, a spokesman for the Alachua County elections supervisor, mentioned the county had begun receiving reviews round 10 a.m. on Tuesday that individuals have been receiving the emails. He estimated that tons of of individuals in the county had acquired them.
The county contacted native regulation enforcement officers, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security. At the University of Florida, emails have been faraway from the inboxes of about 200 individuals.
In the e-mail that The Times reviewed, metadata exhibits that the unique e mail got here from [email protected], an Estonian mail server hosted on ElkData.ee, one of many nation’s area internet hosting providers.
It stays unclear what number of voters in Florida, Alaska or different states acquired related or similar emails.
Each e mail begins by instantly addressing the voter together with his or her full identify. It continues:
“We are in possession of all of your info You are at present registered as a Democrat and we all know this as a result of we’ve gained entry into the complete voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we’ll come after you. Change your occasion affiliation to Republican to tell us you acquired our message and can comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I’d take this significantly if I have been you.”
The e mail then concludes with an tackle, probably the tackle connected to a voter’s registration.
Kevin R.B. Butler, a professor of pc science on the University of Florida, mentioned that whereas the emails appeared threatening, they weren’t extremely technical.
“The emails are clearly alarming by the content material of them and the seemingly focused nature of them, so I can perceive why individuals can be very alarmed to get an e mail like this,” he mentioned. “But the emails themselves should not a very subtle kind of operation.”
“Under Florida regulation, we’re pretty liberal about what’s out there to the general public in terms of voter registration lists,” Dr. Butler added. “Your identify, your tackle and your occasion affiliation — all of that’s recorded. So getting this info shouldn’t be significantly difficult.”
In most states, voter registration knowledge is public info, out there free or via a processing payment. But that info has sometimes been weaponized by dangerous actors making an attempt to say that they’ve obtained voting info by way of hacking.
The emails despatched to voters on Tuesday additionally underscored simply how public some info is relating to voter registration, together with e mail addresses. In Alachua County, which is residence to Gainesville, the e-mail addresses for tens of hundreds of voters have been publicly out there.
But John Hultquist, the director of risk intelligence at FireEye, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity agency, mentioned that the widespread emails spanning a number of states, and the try and leverage the identification of the Proud Boys, have been a selected trigger for concern.
“The scale of the marketing campaign raises a variety of purple flags and we’re it carefully,” Mr. Hultquist mentioned. “Foreign actors usually impersonate political figures or organizations and this might have come from anybody. Whoever’s accountable for the emails may very well be in search of to intimidate voters by leveraging the Proud Boys model, or these incidents may very well be meant to sow extra confusion and discord into the voting course of.”