This is an election year, and security experts are warning that our election systems could be vulnerable to outside attacks as well as domestic technical incompetence and mismanagement.
In January 2019, House Democrats introduced new election security measures as part of the For the People Act, which mandates that states revert to using paper ballots in elections, which must be hand-counted or counted using optical character recognition. It will also authorize the Election Assistance Commission to support smaller districts with grants to upgrade their systems, and it also tasks the Department of Homeland Security to run a security and threat assessment audit ahead of all future elections. The bill will still need a vote and funding for implementation, but it’s a sign that our elections systems are now in transition.
Russia interfered with elections around the world during 2016 and 2017, and safeguarding our voting systems is an ongoing challenge that has yet to be fully resolved. It’s now clear that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. This included pilfering local and national election databases, hampering registration operations in districts around the country, and deliberately spreading false or misleading information to target political candidates.
Unfortunately, we made it easy for hackers to break in—during the 2016 election, 43 states used electronic voting machines that were perilously out of date. In 2020, the Iowa Democratic Party used an app, called Shadow, built to simplify and streamline caucus results reporting. The system failed at the most critically important time, challenging the accuracy and integrity of the results.
Meanwhile Voatz, a blockchain-based voting system that was piloted during West Virginia’s 2018 general election and has been heralded as a new, secure way for people to vote from their living rooms, was shown to have multiple vulnerabilities. Researchers from MIT found that an attacker could hack into phones via Voatz’s Android app and then observe, suppress and alter votes cast. The research team also detailed how the Voatz API could be compromised to alter ballots before a final count was made.
A January 2020 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll revealed that 41% of those surveyed said they believed the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November’s election safe and secure.
Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly demonstrated that our existing internet voting systems aren’t impenetrable. Lawmakers will likely debate mandatory voting technology standards: technology, connectivity, and security.
Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, National Conference of State Legislatures, MIT, National Security Agency, Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Russia, Shadow Inc., Voatz, local voting commissions everywhere.
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