There has been a great deal of controversy and consternation about the results of the 2016 presidential election. One side of the aisle argues that Russian interference and the spread of fake news had a direct impact on the outcome of the election, while the other side claims that any interference was negligible, and that claims of vote rigging are nothing more than sour grapes. So what is going on here? Are voting machines vulnerable to attack, or are the claims of hacking and invalid election results overblown?
As the two sides argue back and forth, there is an even bigger threat looming in the background, one that could impact future elections and throw American democracy into even greater turmoil.
In a survey by Venafi at the Black Hat conference in Aug 2018, 88% of cybersecurity professionals believe that attacks that disrupt election infrastructure should be considered acts of war. “Essentially, this is a war about compromising and controlling information. Once you fully understand that, it’s pretty easy to see that we are in a full-on cyber war right now,” said Jeff Hudson, CEO at Venafi.
A recent report by DEFCON Voting Village should serve as a wakeup call for anyone who values the integrity of the voting process. The study shows voting machines vulnerable to a number of issues, with both traditional optical scan devices and newer electronic voting machines potentially at risk.
Voting machines vulnerable to hacking attempts
That DEFCON Voting Village report showed that some of the most popular and widely used voting machines are vulnerable to hacking and that their security in the upcoming election is anything but assured. The fact that many election machines do not provide any kind of paper trail, and that many state and local cybersecurity efforts have expressed concerns that their voting equipment is vulnerable to hacking, is certainly cause for concern.
Election officials are definitely concerned about voting machines vulnerable to hacking, both in person and remotely. From the secretary of state to local election management officials, a number of individuals and organizations have already expressed concern. Some have even proposed abandoning electronic voting equipment altogether and returning to the old-fashioned paper ballot.
The need for a paper trail
As Election Day approaches, many cybersecurity experts have expressed support for a verifiable paper trail, one that could provide voters with reassurance that their preferences have been accurately recorded. No matter what your party or political beliefs, election security is a critical part of American democracy, and compromised voting systems could put the entire system at risk.
According to research conducted by Global Cyber Policy Watch, one of the most well respected voter integrity organizations in the world, voting machines and voting processes remain vulnerable to a number of attacks, and there is a real risk that multiple attacks could take place simultaneously. These simultaneous attacks, should they occur, have the potential to throw the entire American democratic system into chaos, a situation that could dwarf the controversy that continues to cloud the results of the 2016 presidential election.
It is clear that the United States government takes these risks very seriously, but so far efforts to protect the integrity of the voting infrastructure has been somewhat muted. The infrastructure for elections has been a part of the nation’s critical infrastructure since January 2017, and attempts to study and understand the inherent vulnerabilities of the election system have been ongoing since that time.
Study shows voting machines vulnerable to multiple attacks
As part of those attempts, Global Cyber Policy Watch recently shared its latest research, a study conducted by the DEFCON Voting Machine Hacking Village. That report, released by the aptly named Voting Village, was released on September 2018, nearly two years after the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election and less than six weeks before the upcoming midterms.
That report was deeply troubling, uncovering not one but several potential vulnerabilities in the current election infrastructure. Specifically, the report by Voting Village detailed four potential dangers in the way American elections are currently conducted. Those four potential vulnerabilities are as follows:
#1. Supply chain insecurity
In the corporate world, problems with the supply chain could lead to shortages of raw materials and issues with the quality of finished products. When those supply chain insecurities happen in the voting process, the results could be far more dire.