If you’ve been following the news related to hacking and the general election you may be wondering how secure your vote is. Though United States election infrastructure is a patchwork of state systems and thus doesn’t allow for a single hack that would have sweeping national repercussions, our state-based infrastructure is outdated and could be vulnerable to activities that result in incremental impacts in the lead-up to and on Election Day.
While historically the greatest concern has been tampering with voting machines, the bigger concern may be the vulnerability of state-based voting systems that house voter registration data. Voting machines may individually be vulnerable, but because they are not networked together and only in a few cases are they connected to the Internet, they do not pose much cause for concern.
Hacking voter registration rolls, however, is perhaps the most underestimated yet most powerful way to affect an election. Inaccurate or manipulation of personal data housed in these files would have repercussions on Election Day as voters arriving to polling sites encounter confusion about their voting status — potentially even finding that they’ve been unregistered. Remember, it only took slightly less than 600 votes for Gore to lose Florida in 2000, and that decided the election.
To date, 46 states have taken the Department of Homeland Security up on its offer to test and prepare local voting systems for potential cyber attacks. Concerned North Carolina voters can take precaution by verifying their registration status and affiliation on the state’s Board of Elections website under the “Voter Lookup” tab in advance of Tuesday, and directly contact the BOE if there are any discrepancies that would interfere with their ability to vote.
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As Election Day draws close, and in light of the recent DDoS hack that involved millions of websites, experts are turning their concerns to a potential hack the day of that would prevent polling stations from being able to report returns to the media. This wouldn’t impact the vote, but the doubt and uncertainty it would cast on the election outcome is nearly as great a cause for concern.
If they have not done so already, North Carolina’s and all other states’ Board of Elections can put a few measures in place in advance of Tuesday’s election to prevent this kind of interference by securing polling places and ensuring that volunteers are as prepared with security protocols as staffers. This includes a backup and response plan for when machines aren’t functioning properly, securing wireless networks within polling centers, making sure that the laptops in use at polling stations are using encryption and have anti-virus and anti-malware installed and up to date and training volunteers on security basics.
Armed with an understanding of the election system, voters will have more certainty about the results on Election Day even if the media is stalled in their reporting.
Cathie Brown is the former Deputy Chief Information Security Officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia and vice president of governance, risk, and compliance at Impact Makers.