Something strange happens on election night. With polls closing, American supporters of both parties briefly, intensely align as one: We all want to know who’s going to win, and we don’t want to wait one more minute. The ravenous national appetite for an immediate victor, pumped up by frenzied cable news coverage and now Twitter, means delivering hyper-updated results and projections before any official tally is available. But the technologies that help ferry lightning-quick results out of polling places and onto CNN are also some of the riskiest, experts say. It’s been almost two years since Russian military hackers attempted to hijack computers used by both local election officials and VR Systems, an e-voting company that helps make Election Day possible in several key swing states. Since then, reports detailing the potent duo of inherent technical risk and abject negligence have made election security a national topic. In November, millions of Americans will vote again — but despite hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid poured into beefing up the security of your local polling station, tension between experts, corporations, and the status quo over what secure even means is leaving key questions unanswered: Should every single vote be recorded on paper, so there’s a physical trail to follow? Should every election be audited after the fact, as both a deterrent and check against fraud? And, in an age where basically everything else is online, should election equipment be allowed anywhere near the internet?
The commonsense answer to this last question — that sounds like a terrible idea — belies its complexity. On the one hand, the public now receives regular, uniform warnings from the intelligence community, Congress, and other entities privy to sensitive data: Bad actors abroad have and will continue to try to use computers to penetrate or disrupt our increasingly computerized vote. Just this past March, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommended that “[a]t a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability.” Given that a hacker on the other side of the planet will have trouble connecting to a box in Virginia that’s not connected to anything at all, it stands to reason that walling off these sensitive systems from the rest of the world will make them safer.
… Although it’s possible to “harden” a wireless connection against an attacker for applications like this, doing so “is not child’s play and is the kind of thing that can be easily misconfigured,” cautioned Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist with the Center for Democracy & Technology and a scholar of voting insecurity. As with any kind of computer security, there are many, many opportunities for someone to quietly screw up. “There are stronger wireless protocols that could be used,” added cryptographer Kenneth White, “but they are considerably more difficult to administer and maintain.” Even the best security precautions on paper can be undone instantly by a single error, what White refers to as the “church basement volunteer problem.”
The desire to effortlessly beam unofficial election results “is definitely a real pressure” in the debate over wireless, agrees Hall. “Both voters and the press feel that there should be an almost immediate answer, when in fact the real answer takes 15 to 30 days in many places.”
Full Article: Are We Making Elections Less Secure Just to Save Time?.