President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia dismisses the idea that he has the power to interfere with Tuesday’s election. “Does anyone seriously think that Russia can affect the choice of the American people?” he asked during a foreign policy conference last week in the resort city of Sochi. “What, is America a banana republic? America’s a great power. Correct me if I’m wrong.” America’s top intelligence officials say he is highly unlikely to be able to alter the results. But they expect Russian hackers, or others, to try to disrupt the process — perhaps to help Donald J. Trump, but more likely to simply undercut what Mr. Putin views as America’s holier-than-thou attitudes about its democratic procedures. The Obama administration has concluded that much of the email hacking that has roiled the campaign was almost certainly approved by the Russian leadership. More recent activity — including the probing of registration rolls in several states — might be the work of independent Russian hackers, it says. While no one knows what to expect before the polls close, a tight race is more susceptible to mischief. So government agencies and commercial enterprises, including some hired by state election boards facing a determined cyberthreat for the first time, are on high alert. But they are not exactly sure what to look for. Russian hackers? Other attackers? Malware that harnesses devices to strike election infrastructure? More email revelations?
Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that found the intrusions into the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, said at a Harvard discussion that while the odds that the results could be manipulated were “minuscule,” he thought hackers’ ultimate goal was “to discredit the results of the election.” That is the sort of activity that Russia has long carried out in Ukraine and other former Soviet states.
… Outside election experts fear, however, that this nothing-to-see-here confidence fails to take into account known vulnerabilities. While most voting machines are not connected to the internet while voting is underway, they are often connected before Election Day, to update their ballots and software. Some machines, like the DS200, an optical scanning model used in many districts, comes with an optional wireless ability. The good news: They can report results automatically. The bad news: Any wireless connection is a vulnerability.
There are other worries. Five states do not have paper backups to create an audit trail if the electronic ballots are questioned. Pennsylvania, a swing state, has paper backups in only some communities. Members of the military who are based overseas are often permitted to email their ballots, and Alaskans can use what the state calls “secure online delivery.”
“The D.N.C. hack and the release of the emails are a wake-up call,” said Susannah Goodman, the director of voting integrity for Common Cause. “Emailing is not something you would do with your Social Securitynumber,” she added. “So why would you do it with your ballot?”