A private vendor inadvertently introduces malware into voting machines he is servicing. A hacker hijacks the cellular modem used to transmit unofficial Election Day results. An email address is compromised, giving bad actors the same access to voting software as a local elections official. These are some of the potential vulnerabilities of Wisconsin’s election system described by cybersecurity experts. State officials insist they are on top of the problem and that Wisconsin’s elections infrastructure is secure because, among other safeguards, voting machines are not connected to the internet and each vote is backed by a paper ballot to verify results. In July, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported that Russian hackers have targeted websites of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the state Department of Workforce Development and municipalities including Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn. Elections in this swing state are administered by 1,853 municipal clerks, 72 county clerks and the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Top cybersecurity experts from the United States, Canada and Russia interviewed by the Center said that some practices and hardware components could make voting in Wisconsin open to a few types of malicious attacks, and that Russian actors have a record of these specific actions.
And it is not just Wisconsin — this is a nationwide threat, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine stated in its newly released report, Securing the Vote.
“With respect to foreign threats, the challenge is compounded by the great asymmetry between the capabilities and resources available to local jurisdictions in the United States and those of foreign intelligence services,” according to the report.