RSN Fundraising Banner
The Election Security Threat No One Is Talking About
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=48409"><span class="small">Joshua Eaton, ThinkProgress</span></a>   
Friday, 26 July 2019 12:54

Excerpt: "Public confidence is at stake, even if the vote itself is secure."

A polling location in Miami Beach, Florida, last year. (photo: Scott McIntyre/Getty)
A polling location in Miami Beach, Florida, last year. (photo: Scott McIntyre/Getty)

The Election Security Threat No One Is Talking About

By Joshua Eaton, ThinkProgress

26 July 19

"Public confidence is at stake, even if the vote itself is secure."

magine it’s Nov. 3, 2020. The polls have been closed for a couple of hours. As election results roll in, national media waits anxiously for returns from a handful of key swing districts in Michigan.

Then, around 11 p.m., county election officials begin to post their results on official websites and social-media accounts. Within minutes, the Associated Press has called the state for one presidential candidate, and minutes later the major cable news networks have projected the winner.

Now imagine those county election officials had been hacked, and the results broadcast on their website and social-media accounts were wrong — part of a foreign active-measures campaign to sow chaos and raise doubts about the validity of the election.

This is the nightmare scenario laid out in a new report by a civil grand jury in San Mateo County, California, on Wednesday. While much national attention has focused on the security of voting machines and voter registration databases, the grand jury chose to look at the security of San Mateo County’s infrastructure for election announcements, like notices about where to vote or official election results.

The report found large gaps in the county’s online security, including official websites and social media accounts that did not use two-factor authentication and passwords that county employees shared among themselves.

“These vulnerabilities expose the public to potential disinformation by hackers who could hijack… online communication platform to mislead voters before an election or sow confusion afterward,” the report said. “Public confidence is at stake, even if the vote itself is secure.”

The report looks at two possible scenarios. In one, hackers compromise county accounts before an election to feed voters incorrect information about where and how to vote, potentially affecting the election’s outcome.

In the other, hackers take over county accounts after an election to send out incorrect results that then get rebroadcast by the media, sowing confusion and doubt about the election’s outcome. In this scenario, the vote is secure but public perception is damaged.

The San Mateo County report, which was first reported by Krebs on Security, recommended tighter security for the county’s websites, social media accounts, and email systems. That included moving to two-factor authentication that relies on a physical hardware key rather than a code sent over text message, which are more vulnerable to hackers.

The report also recommended that county officials take advantage of voluntary cybersecurity assistance programs offered by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

The grand jury released its report the same day former special counsel Robert Mueller testified Wednesday that Russia and other foreign adversaries are planning to disrupt future U.S. elections.

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The threat isn’t theoretical. In 2014, Russian hackers targeted Ukraine’s election results website with a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack, temporarily knocking it offline. Hackers did the same thing to a Knox County, Tennessee, election results website last year.

In a similar attack, the Syrian Electronic Army gained access to the Associated Press’ Twitter account on April 23, 2013. “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured,” the hackers tweeted. The news was fake, but the impact was real: For a few minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 150 points.

A bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed that Russian hackers scanned local election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election and made a series of recommendations to improve the security of the nation’s election infrastructure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked a vote Thursday on legislation by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would place mandatory security requirements on local election website, among other reforms. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked three other election security measures from coming to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, Wyden told ThinkProgress that McConnell has “a long history of opposing election reform.”

“And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him,” Wyden added.

Email This Page your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+3 # Caliban 2019-07-26 14:53
"McConnell has “a long history of opposing election reform.”"?

Surely Wyden should have said McConnell has “a long history of welcoming Russian help in stealing elections for the Republican party.”
+4 # economagic 2019-07-27 06:04
For a decade and a half, the Republican party and its allies and operatives domestic and foreign, including Wally O'Dell, the former CEO of Diebold (manufacturer of ATMs, voting machines, and other security apparatus), have used the term "election reform" to mean their direct control of reported vote totals. Verified Voting, Bob Fitrakis, Greg Palast, and other individuals and organizations, have shown publicly how it is done. To the best of my knowledge, in 15 years no charges have been filed and only a couple of lawsuits which went nowhere, with one exception: Diebold was indicted in 2013 for global programs of fraudulent business practices, and was fined a paltry $25 million.
+1 # elizabethblock 2019-07-27 09:55
David McCraw, the counsel for the NY Times, in "Truth In Our Times," said, "It doesn't matter how much freedom journalists have if no one believes them."
And similarly, it doesn't matter how free and fair elections are if people don't believe the results are real. That's what Russia wants. They have a disfunctional country, and they want to make the US disfunctional as well.
+1 # munley 2019-07-27 17:41
This article focuses on the threat of hacking only from a foreign country, Russia and Syria being mentioned. That is absurdity on stilts. Don't tell me that the Reps or the Dems are beyond hacking and changing results, as many suspect happened in Ohio in 2004 and in other U.S. elections. Grave deficiencies in our election systems erupted in 2000. That was the warning that should have resulted in a serious effort to secure voting results. And Diebold becomes one of the largest providers of easily hacked electronic voting machines? Electoral fraud, especially voter suppression, most especially suppression of the black vote, is endemic to the US electoral system.
0 # economagic 2019-07-28 21:01
And did you notice in today's news that McConnell received large contributions from ALL FOUR major manufacturers of voting machines a few months ago? Keep an eye out for the outcome of the lawsuit against partisan gerrymandering filed by North Carolina Common Cause. The trial ended Wednesday, just as the REPUBLICAN Supreme Court decided 5-4 over strong objections from Kagan it was perfectly legal because it has always been done in the past. As usual, Roberts is playing games, trying to keep the approval of the moneyed elite while placating the public with an occasional bone.