The presidential election is over, but the multiple threats to the trustworthiness of our election system and thus our entire democracy exposed during the recent, contentious presidential campaign must be addressed for democracy to survive. The threat is real and it is multifaceted. Disinformation was rampant throughout social media and even, in some instances, through more conventional media sources, such as the false reporting by Fox News Channel of the likelihood of an indictment of Hillary Clinton by the FBI on charges related to misconduct tied to the Clinton Foundation. Social media was a sewer of misinformation during the campaign. According to the Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation, more than 40% of people turn to social media for their news. Twitter was particularly active on Election Day. It is a simple thing for someone or some country trying to influence an election to set up phony Twitter accounts to sow deliberate misinformation. Fake stories, such as Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump and reports that Clinton adviser John Podesta was a Satanist, spread through phony news links on Facebook and other social media.
The growth of the Internet of Things brings a variety of threats to the election system, including the vulnerability of essential infrastructure such as the electrical grid and communication systems at a sensitive time such as Election Day. The recent major denial-of-service attack that temporarily disrupted major websites such as Amazon, CNBC and Twitter was done using relatively unsophisticated and readily available malware and was triggered through a botnet of Internet-connected devices including webcams.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We have got to do better with cybersecurity, and we have the tools. So much of the malware used by cybercriminals, both individual and state-sponsored, is downloaded to our systems by way of “spear phishing,” luring unsuspecting victims into clicking on infected links and downloading the malware. Increased training of everyone as to cybersecurity and better use of available analytics and security software are two things that are absolutely necessary