Russia’s military intelligence agency launched an attack before Election Day 2016 on a U.S. company that provides voting services and systems, according to a top secret report posted Monday by The Intercept. … J. Alex Halderman, a computer security expert from the University of Michigan, is among those who have been sounding the alarm for years. “It’s highly significant that these attacks took place, because it confirms that Russia was interested in targeting voting technology, at least to some extent. I hope further investigation can shed more light on what they intended to do and how far they got,” he says. Halderman and others note that local election officials often contract with private vendors, such as VR Systems, to program their voting equipment. He says if those vendors are hacked, then malware could easily be spread to local election offices and ultimately to individual voting machines. Jeremy Epstein, another voting security expert, said that even though the NSA report describes efforts to hack into voter registration systems, once a hacker has access to a local election office’s computers, they can potentially infect other aspects of the election. “If I was a Russian trying to manipulate an election, this is exactly how I would do it,” he says.
Experts say it would be difficult to know if votes had been tampered with unless the equipment had a paper ballot backup. Those paper ballots can be used to verify whether or not the election results reported electronically were correct.
Lawrence Norden, of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that seven of the eight states that use VR Systems services — California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia — have paper-based systems. And most of the equipment used in the eighth state — Virginia — also use paper.
Another concern is that even if a hacker did not try to change the actual election results, they could undermine confidence in the voting system by causing enough confusion at the polls to raise doubts about the results. That could happen, for example, if voters showed up at the polls to find that their names were not listed, or listed incorrectly.