A series of data breaches overseas are spurring concerns that hackers could manipulate elections in the United States. Since December, hundreds of millions of voters in the U.S., the Philippines, Turkey and Mexico have had their data discovered on the web in unprotected form. In some instances, legitimate security researchers found the information, but in others, malicious hackers are suspected of pilfering the data for criminal purposes.The data breaches are raising questions as the U.S. considers whether to move toward electronic balloting. More people than ever are using the internet to register to vote and to request mail-in ballots. Some states have even become vote-by-mail only in recent years. “If you can’t keep the voter registration records safe, what makes you think you can keep the votes safe?” asked Pamela Smith, president of election watchdog Verified Voting.For a politically inclined hacker, insecure voter data could “very easily” create a pathway to “massive” voter fraud, said Joseph Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, which advocates for secure digital election systems. “If you can go in there and delete rows based on someone’s name or political affiliation, we will have a massively screwed up election process on the day,” he said.
In the U.S., experts say there are few clear standards for locking down voter registration data and hackers have caught on to this fact. Andrew Komarov, chief intelligence officer at identity protection firm InfoArmor, said fraudsters are targeting electoral records at an unprecedented clip.“They’re looking for something fresh and new they can trade in underground [markets],” he said.
… The sheer scale of the attacks, with hundreds of millions of electoral records exposed, has also brought attention to the vulnerability of the data, a prospect that worries fair voting advocates. “If you can impersonate a person, you can request a ballot, you could submit changes to a system,” said Smith, of Verified Voting. “And that could affect whether a voter gets a ballot or not.”
The amount of information in the databases raises the possibility of meddling in elections on a large scale, Kiniry said. “In the USA, the concern I hold is if our registration systems are easily manipulated, we’re not going to see breaches, were going to see voter ID manipulation remotely,” he said, meaning hackers could be “removing people who should be there.”
“That can have as big an impact on an election as anything else,” Kiniry added.