National: Can Government Protect Our Elections From Cyber-Hacking? | The National Memo

For five days in late March, the computers running most of Atlanta city government were frozen—shut down and held hostage by hackers who used ransomware, a pernicious way of extorting money. The attackers breached networks and hard drives. They locked up and encrypted the data. They changed file names to “I’m sorry” and gave its targets a week to pay with cyber currency. “We are dealing with a hostage situation,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at the time. That nightmarish scenario is exactly what the officials who run state and local elections are seeking to prevent in spring primaries and especially next fall’s general election: a widespread disruption of voting in key locales and races, where the process is held hostage as the press, candidates, supporters and public impatiently demand results.

In recent days, there have been new revelations about the extent of 2016’s cyber attacks on voting, suggesting they were more widespread and varied than previously known. But even though these disclosures raise eyebrows, there is still no evidence that hacking changed 2016’s election results, even minutely. Moreover, election officials are taking unprecedented steps to secure voting in 2018, including using a range of backups.

“In most cases, there are protections and fail-safes to ensure that voters can still cast a ballot that will count,” said David Becker, founder and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, who previously led the team creating a data center now used by 23 states that has registered more than 6 million new voters since 2012. “Election officials are working hard to prevent and detect any potential attack. They are also successfully working to mitigate the effect of any attack, allowing for the voters to vote with confidence their votes will count.”

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