This week, we’re exploring infrastructure security. Typically, “infrastructure” conjures images of power plants, manufacturing facilities, telecommunications networks, financial institutions, and emergency services. However, the 2016 election cycle has drawn increasing attention to America’s election infrastructure and its significance to national security. As the midterms approach, the spotlight is once again on election hacking and how to prevent it.
2016 in review
The 2016 election cycle was a tipping point for cybersecurity. Beginning with the revelation that key DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign staffers had been phished, the media was aflame with reports of election meddling. A simple email attack had exposed communications and research that many contend impacted the course of the election. State and federal governments also discovered intrusions into multiple state election systems around this time.
Beyond that, social engineering ran rampant. The exponential spread of fake news and divisive content was a key factor in the months leading up to Election Day. On September 26, UD’s Center for Political Communication hosted a talk with cybersecurity expert Dave DeWalt wherein DeWalt summarized the attacks: “social influence . . . ultimately was the way in which [the attackers] undermined our processes.”
Understanding election systems as critical infrastructure
2016 was a mad scramble as federal and state officials wrapped their heads around how vulnerable America’s election infrastructure really is. In January 2017, election systems were officially listed as critical infrastructure. Since then, investigations have revealed issues with everything from voter databases to voting machines themselves.
Even as far back as the turn of the century, worries were setting in over the security and resilience of election systems. In a recent article, The New York Times explores the history of elections from the perspective of security, documenting the challenges faced by America’s 10,000+ election jurisdictions over the last 50 years. Even in the earliest days of computerized polling, there were serious doubts about the integrity of election results. From black-box technology to vulnerabilities, memory issues to hacking, issues with voting machines have been surfacing—and fading quietly away—for quite a while.
The path forward
Now, with the 2018 midterm elections just around the proverbial corner, America is faced with a situation largely unchanged from 2016. Although 2016 sparked more widespread discussion about the hackability of both systems and voters, many of the root problems are difficult to solve.
International headlines buzzed when an 11-year-old hacked a replica Florida state election system in 10 minutes at this year’s DEFCON hacking conference. Changes in the national election infrastructure don’t happen overnight—or in two years.
Changes in media, especially social media, are a little faster, but not much more successful. Various social networks, from Facebook to Twitter, have experimented with anti-fake news mechanisms designed to identify and suppress proxy accounts and false information, but they’re not foolproof.
So what can you, as a voter and citizen, do this November 6th?
- Do your research. Thoroughly research the candidates, and be sure to vet news about key issues through multiple trustworthy sources. Never assume an article is accurate.
- Fight back against fake news. Help combat the spread of false information by providing trustworthy and verified sources instead. Don’t automatically share or retweet articles based on the headline or whether they support your views.
- Ask your representatives what they’re doing about election security. Make sure your local, state, and federal officials understand that this issue is important to you, your community, and our nation.
- GET OUT AND VOTE! Don’t let the challenge of election security dissuade you from your civic duty. It’s important to let your voice be heard, not just in spite of, but because of the risks our system faces.
Interested in more?
Explore our NCSAM resources and learn how to enter our prize drawing by visiting our NCSAM resource center! There’s less than a week left to get your name on the list!
Thinking about pursuing a degree in cybersecurity? Get in touch with UD’s Cybersecurity Initiative! UD CSI is hosting a series of brown-bag discussions to mark October as the 15th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). Topics include:
- Cybersecurity in the Workplace is Everyone’s Business (Oct. 11)
- Today’s Predictions for Tomorrow’s Internet (Oct. 19)
- The Internet Wants You: Consider a Career in Cybersecurity (Oct. 25)
- Cybersecurity Preparedness in Corporate America—What are we missing? (Oct. 30)
All sessions will take place from noon-1:00pm in the iSuite, 132 Evans Hall. For more information, visit the CyberSecurity Initiative website: https://csi.udel.edu/2018/10/csi-brown-bag-lunches/
Students can ask the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering about these recent opportunities:
Our IT Security team appreciated hearing from you at the Tech Open House this Tuesday! If you missed us there and want to let us know your thoughts, fill out the Secure UD Survey (and get an entry into our prize drawing in the process).