How convenient for voters: Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow them to change registration information online, including address and party affiliation. How convenient for wannabe attackers, too: With more personal information available online, it could be cheap and easy to falsely submit thousands of changes online to voter registrations, making some legitimate voters ineligible to cast ballots. A new study found that it would have cost as little as $1,934 last year to falsely submit online changes to 10 percent of registrations in Pennsylvania, a political battleground state that was pivotal to the 2016 presidential election. A similar attack on 10 percent of New Jersey voters’ registrations would have cost just $1,069, the researchers found. “It’s clear that impostors can definitely launch these attacks, and it’s not particularly expensive to launch these attacks against these websites,” said Latanya Sweeney, a government professor at Harvard University and one of the study’s authors.
“This is a brave new world. I think it’s been easy to see the benefits of online shopping and online data, but I think this is a reminder of some of the serious questions that we have to grapple with in exchange for that freedom of information and access,” said David Thornburgh, the president and CEO of good-government group Committee of Seventy.
And the cost of submitting false changes is likely getting lower and lower, Sweeney and her coauthors said, as computing costs fall and data breaches like the Equifax attack disclosed last week continue.