With Election Day quickly approaching and rumors of a “rigged election” spreading, Americans can’t help but wonder if their election system is protected. The threat of cyber attacks loom, and states are more concerned than ever about the sanctity of the voting process. In this digitally evolving world, how will America’s current cybersecurity protocol affect elections?
As of now, 36 states and 11 local election agencies have requested cybersecurity assistance from the Department of Homeland Security. According to Jeh Johnson, DHS Secretary, 20 states have “reported attempted hacks involving their election systems.” Now that the Obama administration has said it is “confident” that the Russian government is responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, agencies look to advance cybersecurity measures against both foreign and domestic hackers.
Cybersecurity experts have made one clear distinction: Recent email hacks, such as those that plagued the DNC, differ greatly from actual voting machine hacking. Although computer experts have demonstrated successful hacking of voting machines under certain conditions (internet access, wireless capability, etc.), the scale and coordination it would take to manipulate election results make it extremely difficult. Thomas Hicks, Chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission, claims an adversary would have to infiltrate more than 50 different administrative offices that conduct and record voting across the country, in order to hack into voting machines.
That being said, Arizona and Illinois have already experienced a breach to their voter rolls. Election offices are concerned not only with the cybersecurity of voting machines, but also voter registration lists. State election offices have proven online assailants can penetrate these lists, which concerns legislators.
Real World Implications
Hacking does not always take the form of a large scale event. Even if a hack causes a slight disruption, this could stall the voting process on election day, potentially forcing busier voters to miss their chances at voting altogether. Something as simple as hacking a voter registration list, gathering the emails of voters from a particular party, and sending them a fake email with altered election day details, could have a large effect on the outcome of the election.
As cybersecurity threats are constantly growing, presidential candidates must develop cybersecurity policies and election offices should implement necessary cybersecurity measures. The Department of Homeland Security is offering federal support for any state concerned about cybersecurity threats. The door is now open for election officials to learn more about their vulnerabilities and the dangers to which they are exposed.