As America heads toward the 2018 midterms, there is an 800-pound gorilla in the voting booth. Despite improvements since Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential race, the U.S. elections infrastructure is vulnerable — and will remain so in November. Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier laid out the problem to an overflowing room full of election directors and secretaries of state — people charged with running and securing elections — at a conference at Harvard University this spring. “Computers are basically insecure,” said Schneier. “Voting systems are not magical in any way. They are computers.” Even though most states have moved away from voting equipment that does not produce a paper trail, when experts talk about “voting systems,” that phrase encompasses the entire process of voting: how citizens register, how they find their polling places, how they check in, how they cast their ballots and, ultimately, how they find out who won. Much of that process is digital.
“This is the problem we always have in computer security — basically nobody has ever built a secure computer. That’s the reality,” Schneier said. “I want to build a robust system that is secure despite the fact that computers have vulnerabilities, rather than pretend that they don’t because no one has found them yet. And people will find them — whether it’s nation-states or teenagers on a weekend.”
… Arizona’s director of elections, Eric Spencer, an Iraq war veteran, compared the preparations he and his team are making to his training as an infantry officer. “We always trained harder in the United States for combat to make it easier when we got overseas, and I see this as the same thing,” he said. “[Crisis scenarios] were nearly nonexistent a few years ago. In 2016, before we got information that elections were subject to foreign interference, it was in the back of our mind, but now it’s probably the No. 1 item in our mind.”
Most of the focus so far has been on the more than dozen states still using electronic voting machines that don’t provide a paper backup trail; experts say these machines could allow potential hacks or even technological glitches to go undetected.