It is a war game with a twist. Instead of army officers, election officials are in charge. Instead of battling against an enemy armed with missiles, defences are choreographed against hackers hidden behind foreign computers. With the US midterm elections fast approaching, more than 160 election officials from across the country have just months to learn how to defend democracy. These public servants have centuries of experience between them, managing polling stations and vote counts across 38 states. They are experts in dealing with foul weather, irate voters and fights between rival candidates. But none ever expected to be on the front line in a battle against Russian hackers. Today’s responsibilities include patching up vulnerabilities in voting machines, preventing tampering with electronic records and stalling the spread of disinformation through social media.
To learn how to do this, the officials are attending a two-day cyber-security bootcamp in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they will participate in a mock election, assuming roles including the secretary of state (the state-level official in charge of elections), IT administrators, communications directors, campaign chiefs and activists. I am taking part too, charged with playing a nosy reporter, and am allowed to watch the chaos unfold, on the condition that I do not name the officials or their states.
In this mock election (the third of its kind, with some officials attending more than once), the main threat comes from a group called “Kompromat” – a Russian political term for compromising material, often used for blackmail. This is an unsubtle reference to the Russian hackers who surprised the US by launching attacks on its electoral system in real life in 2016.
Full Article: America vs the hackers: inside a cyber-security bootcamp.