The end of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is upon us. Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots.
This has been an interesting campaign cycle, to say the least. There has even been allegations that the Russian government is trying to disrupt the election. With everything that has been going on, people are worried that the election will be interrupted in other ways.
Joint statement from DHS and ODNI
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on Election Security released a joint statement last month trying to calm those fears. In the statement it was said that, "it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion."
The statement went on to say, "This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process."
The non-partisan lobbying group, Verified Voting, is more concerned with individual local election results. One of its advisors told "TheWrap" that local results could easily be tampered with. They said that this is because it's "child's play" to hack an elctronic voting machine.
The actual voting machines aren't the only concern. Election officials use desktop and laptop computers to prepare ballots, electronic files from the OpScan machines, panel voter registration and electronic poll books. The election could be seriously disrupted if those computers were to get hacked.
Most likely it would be the reporting system that gets disrupted. This is the process of jursidicitons reporting results on electon night. The actual vote wouldn't be affected, but it would make the vote counting process take a much longer time.
Having a paper trail for voting is the best defense against errors in election results. Most states use paper ballots or have a printout from electronic voting machines. The only places that are paperless are parts of Virginia and most of Pennsylvania.
With allegations of a "rigged" system already out there, having any type of Election Day disruption could be a disaster. Here are some other concerns that people are worried about:
The possibility of a cyberthreat disrupting the election has government agencies, along with some commercial enterprises associated with state election boards, on high alert. They need to be prepared for everything as the attacks could come from anywhere. Here are five possible election hacks that officials are most worried about:
1. Voter registration rolls - These are lists of people who are legally registered to vote, along with their place of residence. In the past, these rolls were kept in books at polling locations. Nowadays, they are stored in databases that are usually connected to sites that allow people to register to vote.
Earlier this year, the FBI warned both Arizona and Illinois that their central voter registration databases were being probed by someone. The federal government doesn't treat voter databases as critical infrastructure, mainly because it didn't foresee a foreign attacker causing Election Day chaos. It's basically left to the states to protect the databases.
This is what is raising concern. Many states have not devoted enough funds to fully protect these databases, leaving them open to attack. Most states don't even sample their system to make sure data is accurate, making it nearly impossible to detect a problem.
That led to almost every state asking for help from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS tested those states' databases, but it was done in a rushed manner, and the government won't release the test results.
Officials are concerned that hackers could make small changes to a voter's address or another piece of identifying information. This could result in seriously long lines on Election Day, or even add to the theory that the polls are "rigged." If voters cast provisional ballots as a result of this type of attack, it could take months to get an accurate result.
2. Rig a voting machine - It's easy to imagine a vicious hacker altering the votes on an electronic voting machine. They would just need the simple passcode that is used to access the information and they would be able to go in with their own bug and change which candidate a person selected. It would be almost impossible to figure out which ballots were accurate and which ballots were tampered with by hackers.
3. The whole system gets shut down - What would happen if no one could vote in the first place? It's not something that is completely out of the question!
Cybercriminals could use a systematically distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack to effectively disable some or all voting machines. It could be similar to the attack that shut down several major websites a few weeks ago.
They could even use specified computer coding to stop the back-end voting servers altogether. Citizens would line up to vote only to be turned away because of technical malfunctions.
4. Manipulating news organizations - Voting results have a specific path of getting to news organizations. Precincts report returns to regional centers, and from there the information gets sent to the Associated Press.
Hackers could interfere with results before being reported on a news channel, where they could proclaim the wrong candidate as the winner. Even if the reported results are unofficial, and the correct winner is later determined, people on the opposite side could cry foul play.
This scenario actually happened recently in Ukraine. Officials say hackers were attacking software to manipulate election outcomes. The attack was discovered just before the election results were set to be announced.
5. More personal dirt disclosed - It's no secret that politicians are excellent mudslingers. It feels like every other commercial around election season is one candidate bashing another. Hackers could take this dirt-digging practice one step further, though.
They could enter a candidate's personal smartphone, tablets, computer, email address or anything just as private from their campaign staff members. Who knows what they could find? Inappropriate use of funds, extramarital affairs, even dirty pictures!
They could use this information to bash candidates and change the public's opinion of them in the blink of an eye. This type of information is like a goldmine to manipulative cybercriminals.
There are other concerns with the upcoming election, but these are on the top of the watch list. We'll just have to wait to see how this plays out.