Midterm Election Cybersecurity: “The Adversary Wins If We Don’t Vote”

November 6th, 2018 by CHHS RAs

By CHHS Extern Kaitlyn Holzer 

Two years ago, Russia interfered with the United States presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s server and engaging in a series of online campaigns through false social media accounts. Today, voters wonder if the midterm election faces similar challenges.

Federal and state officials are closely monitoring today’s election by surveying voting and registration systems across the country. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security installed ALBERT Sensors in 39 states. These sensors detect traffic on an election system’s network and alert the federal government to suspicious information. Swing states such as Florida have implemented ALBERT sensors in every county. As a result of the federal government’s efforts, Secretary of DHS, Kirstjen Nielsen, assured voters that today’s election “is going to be the most secure we’ve ever had.”

However, in the weeks leading up to today’s election, foreign hackers have targeted voter registration databases, election officials, and election networks at an alarming rate. Since August 1, 2018, there have been more than 160 attempts to alter the midterm election. During the last few weeks, attempts at hacking today’s election have increased to about 10 instances per day.  As recently as last week, Georgia GOP gubernational nominee, Brian Kemp, announced that the state’s voter registration system may have been hacked and accused the Georgia Democratic Party of committing cybercrimes against his campaign. Kemp’s office was made aware of the attack by the Georgia Democratic Party after a concerned voter disclosed information to them. For now, the investigation focuses on the Democratic Party and makes no mention of foreign adversaries.

After the 2016 presidential election, states began to prepare for the midterm elections by working to improve their cybersecurity. Lawrence Norden, an election security expert at the Brennan Center of Justice at New York University notes “the fact that we’re monitoring this activity is in itself a good sign.” In preparation for today’s vote, Washington, Illinois, and Wisconsin activated the National Guard cyber-security units. In the event of a cyberattack, the National Guard is immediately ready to provide assistance to these three states in securing their election systems. Other states may also activate the National Guard in the case of a cyberattack by an executive order from the governor.

Although the focus of potential cyberattacks on today’s election centers around voting machines and networks, the largest cybersecurity threat we face today is the vulnerability of local election websites where voters find information about polling places. The manipulation of these websites will not affect the ballots, but it may cause a decrease in voter turnout due to fear and lack of confidence in the security of the election system. Nielsen warned “the main important thing here is that the adversary wins if we don’t vote.”

 

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