The concern that the 2016 US presidential election may be hacked, by Russia or some other bad actor, could hold the same place in history as the Millennium Bug: a whole load of worry over nothing. “Unless the election is extraordinarily close, it is unlikely that an attack will result in the wrong candidate getting elected,” suggest Matt Bernhard and Professor J Alex Halderman, security experts from the University of Michigan. But they say the risk the election process could be disrupted by hackers should be taken extremely seriously. In the run up to the big day, the US Department of Homeland Security has been carrying out “cyber hygiene” tests on voting systems across the country. Officials are confident in the technology, but there are weaknesses that have security professionals standing-by on election day ready to step-in if irregularities are spotted.
The task facing any hacker isn’t insignificant. In the US, voting is done via electronic booths, the vast majority of which are not connected to the internet. Furthermore, different states, and areas within those states, use different systems – a logistical headache but something of a security godsend, as a fractured system is much harder to attack en masse.
But any would-be election hacker wouldn’t need to target the whole country. Or even an entire state. Instead, finding methods to implant minute differences, in areas which promise to be a close-run battle, could both affect the national picture and be difficult to detect.
… Verified Voting is an organisation that tracks the use of voting machines, and their security, across the US. It’s a painstakingly put together dataset which gives you an idea of the complexity of the US voting system. By using this resource, and combining it with polling data, Mr Bernhard and Prof Halderman were able to isolate key states with both poor voting booth security and a tight race.
They named the most at-risk states as: Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado. “As jurisdictions with close races are most vulnerable to having their results perturbed or cast into doubt, these are the ones to be concerned about,” the researchers wrote.