The list of precautions the state has taken to keep computer hackers from hijacking the November election stretches to two single-spaced pages: a cyber security team, a new outside election consultant and an encrypted internet transmission system. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and his staff say they feel confident that they have taken every reasonable step to prevent hackers from upending the election. Yet, memories of a hack in 2009 that shut down the Secretary of State’s business website never quite fade. And now a foreign-led hack of Democratic National Committee computers is reigniting previous concerns about the upcoming election. “If the [voting] system is connected to the internet or if the system is connected to a network that’s connected to the internet, there’s a cascading risk,” said Mike Johnson, who spent 15 years directing cyber security for Bremer Bank and now teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Technological Leadership Institute. Across the country, in the aftermath of the extraordinary attack on the DNC computers, cyber security experts are newly assessing the vulnerability of the nation’s voting system. Some say the technological weaknesses are significant enough to disrupt the presidential election.
Authorities contend that it is unlikely hackers would infiltrate individual voting machines to tilt the outcome in favor of one candidate, but they say digital hackers could tap into each state’s election system and wreak havoc in some places where there is a tight race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Even creating doubt about the final results could throw the election into chaos.
Election officials around the country are rushing to check and double-check the safeguards in their voting systems.
In Minnesota, Simon created a cyber security team when he took office in 2015. Then he hired an outside consultant to review voting safeguards so the state could implement tougher measures before Election Day. “When you see something like the DNC hack, it takes things from the theoretical to knowing this could really happen, someone might want to tamper with an election,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit group focused on electoral integrity.