Over the past few months, voters have been inundated with issues surrounding election legitimacy and election security issues. Cybersecurity professionals are an imperative part of ensuring that the votes of the people are heard and the long-standing values of democracy are upheld. As technology gets smarter, election security issues grow more complex.
Some election cyber security issues include:
- Ransomware – As its name indicates, ransomware attacks a company, government, or organization by “kidnapping” their sensitive data and refusing to return access until a hefty fee is paid. While these attacks are usually financially rather than politically motivated, removing government access to important voter data (such as correct polling places for voters, or access to voter registration) can slow or even stop the voting process if the ransom is not paid. Even if a government agency does go ahead and pay the (often exorbitant) ransom fee, there’s no guarantee that the person at fault in the ransomware attack will restore access.
- Advance voter data manipulation – This type of election interference involves changing voter names, addresses, party affiliation, and other issues that can cause confusion at polling places. Problems with these issues can cause voter frustration at the polls, and can even cause some polling places to have to turn voters away. People who have issues with their voter registration are often issued “provisional ballots,” which are only counted in the event that the election is incredibly close. When these ballots need to be used in large numbers, elections can become far more complex, and it can take longer for government officials to arrive at a result. This can lead to political unrest in areas that are unsure of who their next leader will be.
- Day-of vote problems – Bandwidth problems – or, in simple terms, slow internet – can cause long delays in voting lines. While these delays don’t necessarily stop people from voting, it can cause people to become frustrated or can cause problems with people who don’t have all day to wait in line to vote. Many people take time away from work or family to vote, and at a certain point, cannot continue to wait in line. These targeted attacks can result in a low number of votes, even though the number of people who showed up at the polls was quite high.
- Actual vote manipulation – The FBI and Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency have issued warnings to voters stating that actual vote manipulation is incredibly rare, and it would be nearly impossible for an outside entity to effect enough votes that it could change the outcome of an election. These organizations warn that often, rumors of vote manipulation are put into media circulation by those who are working to destroy the underpinnings of democracy by planting the idea that election results are not representative of actual votes counted.
- Physical infrastructure attacks – Government organizations state that it’s highly unlikely that a foreign body could access enough government information to create a large-scale physical infrastructure attack. Interference with electricity, transportation, traffic patterns, water supply, and other infrastructure issues could cause enough chaos to put a halt to the voting process. While a large-scale attack is unlikely, it could be possible for a nefarious organization to pull off a small-scale attack that could affect voters in key swing cities, potentially swaying the final results of a large election.
- Voter-targeted disinformation campaigns – Social media political campaigns are incredibly targeted, showing viewers information and articles that confirm the views they already hold. It can be easy for social media users to become entrenched in false belief when they’re targeted with election-related disinformation campaigns. In addition to changing the way a citizen may vote, disinformation campaigns can also be used to stir civil unrest in an already-tense political situation.
What’s The Latest Election Security Legislation?
In 2019, multiple bills to give states money to update their voting systems were blocked in the Senate. The Securing America’s Federal Elections, or SAFE, Act, has yet to be passed. This Democrat-backed bill would have authorized $600 million to the Election Assistance Commission. This money would have been divided amongst states to enhance their voting security, in part by stopping voting machines from being connected to the internet.
Election Cyber Security: A Growing Field
In today’s political climate, it’s clear that cybersecurity is a hot topic. Government organizations are looking for cybersecurity professionals who are up-to-date in the latest training, and willing to put in the hard work it takes to stay one step ahead of outside interference.