Pandemics. Voter manipulation. Cyber-attacks. There was a time when these words were ones we associated with books and novels, but not anymore. Today, they’ve become a part of our daily conversations. Considering how easily these words have become a regular part of our lives, it’s perfectly natural to wonder just how big an impact they have on our existence. One of the biggest events on our horizon is the 2020 U.S. election. In November, we’ll come together and decide who we trust to lead our nation through the next four years.
The great thing about election years is that they get everyone talking. We talk about our options. We talk about what we like about the current state of the world and what aspects we wish were different. We talk about what we like and don’t like about each candidate. Most of all, we talk about how we think/hope the election will turn out. This year, as Election Day draws nearer, we’re also talking about what cybersecurity and voting interference issues could impact the outcome and what steps are in place to make sure that each vote is accurately counted.
Election Influencing: What Is the Likelihood?
The average citizen didn’t consider what other countries thought about the U.S. election or what steps they’d take to see that the election turned out a certain way. That’s changed. Since the 2016 Presidential Election, it’s impossible to go more than a few days without hearing rumors that Russia had something to do with the final results. While it’s still difficult to say just what impact Russia did and didn’t have on the election, the one thing everyone agrees on is that we’re now hyper-aware of the stakes other countries have on the 2020 U.S. election and are worried about the possibility of election influencing.
In 2018, Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, identified the countries that are the most interested in U.S. elections. He cited,
- North Korea
In addition to information supporting the idea that Russia was invested in getting Donald Trump elected president in 2016, there are currently rumors that Russia is also silently supporting the Bernie Sanders campaign.
There are multiple tools other countries use to influence final election results. Three of these tools are particularly troubling.
During the 2016 Presidential Election, Russia showed just how effective combining technology and misleading information was during an election year. Indeed, Russia used a variety of methods for mining a great deal of negative information about the candidates the country didn’t want in office and used WikiLeaks and other popular internet sources to make the information available to the voting population. WikiLeaks against the Clinton campaign are the best-known example of Russia’s ability to use cyber-attacks to influence a campaign, there’s evidence to suggest that the same method was used for state-level political campaigns as well.
Social media platforms have proven to be an especially useful tool in terms of campaign influencing.
The Oxford Internet Institute conducted research that indicated that not only are social media platforms an effective way to influence campaigns, but governments/politicians are also becoming more adept at using the platforms nefariously.
Data collected during the research proved that:
- Approximately 70 countries have actively used social media to generate and spread campaign influencing propaganda
- It’s becoming common for both politicians and political parties to create fake followers
- 26 countries have used social media platforms to suppress and even change public opinion
- 25 countries have enlisted the aid of third-party sources to help create/spread social media propaganda
- Facebook is the most popular social media platform when it comes to spreading social media propaganda that’s designed to change popular opinion
While it’s unlikely that foreign influence on the U.S Presidential Campaign will be completely blocked, the newfound awareness of the issue has caused social media powers to step up and do what they can to block the practice. The social media platform that has been the most pro-active in terms of shutting down foreign campaign influencing is Facebook. The steps Facebook has taken to block foreign influencing includes:
- Hiring thousands of new employees who have been tasked with monitoring safety/security
- Content/account purges
- Protecting the security of candidates social media accounts
- Updating a policy that blocks inauthentic behavior
- Improving fact-checking labels
Considering that the average person dedicates approximately 2.5 hours of their day to social media, reducing foreign government’s ability to use social media channels to campaign for their preferred politician should have a major impact on how much foreign influencing impacts the upcoming 2020 U.S. election.
Ransomware Attacks on Elections
One of the new concerns American’s have regarding election security is ransomware attacks. This particular issue came to public awareness in 2019 when three different cities suddenly found themselves the victims of ransomware attacks. In these cases, the ransomware held the cities hostage. Many feel that these early threats may have been a warm-up for a larger scale attack that will strike the 2020 Election.
The traditional way that ransomware works is that a menacing program is released on a specific computer or computer network is locked and a ransom is demanded. Once the ransom is paid, the computer resumes normal function. In terms of an election, the same software could be used to delay election results or even provide hackers the time and means needed to change the results.
While the potential implications of ransomware is terrifying, there is a shining light. Officials have already noted the threat of ransomware and are working to come up with solutions before the next presidential election. The Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been tasked with exploring ransomware and has reportedly already taken steps to minimize the chances of countries believed to be capable (and willing) to use the software to influence the election.
Voting Machines: Are They Trustworthy?
It’s safe to ask that following the “hanging chad” debacle in 2000. Until that time the idea of a voting machine stalling election results seemed ridiculous, yet that’s exactly what happened. Ever since, each time an election approaches, voters have raised concerns about the trustworthiness of the voting machines in their precinct.
One of the big concerns voters have regarding voting machines is if they’re tallying the votes correctly. For as long as people have been voting there have been conspiracies about the voting machines/people counting the vote, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. It doesn’t matter how much effort goes into showing everyone just how the votes are calculated and tallied, there are always going to be those who cry foul when their preferred candidate loses.
Another, more serious concern regarding the voting machines that will be used for the 2020 U.S. Election is that cyber attackers could potentially hack the paperless voting machines that 12 of the fifty states currently use. If hackers manage to gain control of the machines, they could change the results. The concern is that since using these machines means that there is no paper record of each voter’s decision that can be used to double-check the results, it’s possible the district won’t realize their voting machines were hacked and the erroneous vote will stand.
As of yet, there isn’t a good way to promise that the electronic voting machines can’t/won’t be hacked and skew election results. As a result, at least half of the states that currently use the electronic voting machines have stated that they intend to replace the current machines with a version that will at least provide a paper back up so that the election officials can double-check the results.
The coronavirus or COVID-19 has changed how the world views security. Now voters aren’t just worried about making sure the votes are accurately counted and recorded, they are also worried about what security measures will be in place during the election to preserve their physical health. At this point, no one fully knows how the coronavirus will impact safety during the 2020 U.S. Election. One of the big issues on the table is whether the coronavirus will even be a factor. Hopefully, by the time the November election rolls around, the virus will be nothing more than a distant memory.
What the pandemic is impacting is the last of the primary elections. Three of the states that still had primaries scheduled after a National Emergency was declared opted to move forward with their voting. Ohio decided to postpone its primary until June. What the pandemic has pushed to the forefront is the importance of mail-in ballots. The COVID-19 outbreak could convince legislators to make voting by mail easier, a change that could be in place before the 2020 Presidential Election.
Learn More About the Security Issues That Could impact the 2020 U.S. Election
The 2020 U.S. Election is still several months away. It’s reasonable to assume that security concerns will change and that responses to the concerns will also evolve between now and then. Contact us to learn more.