Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Will Russian Hackers Target Voting Machines In November?

Donald Trump has encouraged Russian government hackers to continue to target the DNC and Hillary Clinton - something that in days past might have been viewed at traitors, certainly if done by Democrats.  And now, some are raising the frightening possibility that Donald Trump's Russian supporters might decide to target voting machines to insure a Trump victory in exchange for the promises Trump has suggested he would deliver: the dismantlement of NATO, the throwing of eastern European nations to Vladimir Putin's megalomania, and wholesale changes in America's trade policies.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this all too possible threat.  Here are highlights:
Russia was behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network that led to the release of thousands of internal emails just before the party’s convention began, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedlyconcluded.
The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come. Thepolitical nature of this cyberattack means that Democrats and Republicans are trying to spin this as much as possible. Even so, we have to accept that someone is attacking our nation’s computer systems in an apparent attempt to influence a presidential election. This kind of cyberattack targets the very core of our democratic process. And it points to the possibility of an even worse problem in November — that our election systems and our voting machines could be vulnerable to a similar attack.
If the intelligence community has indeed ascertained that Russia is to blame, our government needs to decide what to do in response. This is difficult because the attacks are politically partisan, but it is essential. If foreign governments learn that they can influence our elections with impunity, this opens the door for future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.
We need to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin in some way — politically, economically or in cyberspace — and make it clear that we will not tolerate this kind of interference by any government. Regardless of your political leanings this time, there’s no guarantee the next country that tries to manipulate our elections will share your preferred candidates.
Even more important, we need to secure our election systems before autumn. If Putin’s government has already used a cyberattack to attempt to help Trump win, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again — especially now thatTrump is inviting the “help.”
But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.
We no longer have time for that. We must ignore the machine manufacturers’ spurious claims of security, create tiger teams to test the machines’ and systems’ resistance to attack, drastically increase their cyber-defenses and take them offline if we can’t guarantee their security online.
Longer term, we need to return to election systems that are secure from manipulation. This means voting machines with voter-verified paper audit trails, and no Internet voting. I know it’s slower and less convenient to stick to the old-fashioned way, but the security risks are simply too great.
Hacking of voting machines isn’t new, either. But what is new is a foreign government interfering with a U.S. national election on a large scale. Our democracy cannot tolerate it, and we as citizens cannot accept it.

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