Protecting American Democracy from Hackers

If the US wants to maintain a transparent and trusted democratic process, it must urgently address the evolving threat of hackers' interference in the election process.

Posted on 08/17/17
By Carla Rghtsideoftruth | Via ViewsWeek
(Image by Global Panorama, CC license)
(Image by Global Panorama, CC license)

In 2016, an effort was made to change the face of democracy amidst accusations that hackers from Russia had interfered in the election process. The claim came after thousands of personal emails, including the notorious Hilary Clinton’s emails, which severely damaged her reputation at a critical point of her campaign, were leaked.


Suggestions that the hack aimed to manipulate the election result pose an important question. As governments around the world hone their hacking skills, do we need to do more to protect the democratic process on a global scale?


Does Russian hack suggest a future where international interference in elections will be an acute problem?

The Age of Online Warfare
Though cyber warfare may seem like a thing of the future, many events over the last decade suggest it’s closer than we think. China was the first to act internationally; the US has experienced an ongoing barrage of cyber attacks since 2003. The American investigators identified the assault as Titan Rain and, in 2014, a former NASA official revealed that Chinese malware was found on the computers of every major US Corporation.


In the following years, many countries have taken up the cyber-sword. In the ongoing tension between North and South Korea, the latter experienced DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks that hit broadcasting services, banking, and even military databases. Many terror groups, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda, also developed the hacking power to spread propaganda and collect information.


The world witnessed the power of online warfare in May 2017, when a cyber attack that hit corporations across the world also brought down the British Health Service. Thousands across the UK couldn’t access crucial information or get in contact with medical professionals. If hackers can access these critical national services, then attacking election campaigns is only a short step away for many democracies in the East and West.


Digitized Voting
It only makes sense that some of our voting systems are moving online. We are already seeing numerous countries installing, or at least testing, a technology that allows results to be collected without human interference. India stands out as the only country to have developed a large-scale electronic voting system. After experimenting with Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in 1982, 2004 was the first year of countrywide use in the South Asian country.


However, the mixing of technology and voting has received significantly more resistance in other parts of the world. After testing different machines, the UK, US, Germany, and Switzerland opted against EVMs after numerous security concerns. While most states offer online options for expats and other displaced citizens, a fully digitalized system would increase the chance of electoral corruption significantly.


Interference in voting is another crucial worry. Some of the most advanced technology companies have invested a great deal in developing more secure EVMs, including both Dell and Microsoft. Top universities such as MIT and Caltech also announced a Voting Technology Initiative in 2000.


Despite the technical and corporate drive behind development of these systems, hackers attending a convention in Las Vegas were able to break into the current US voting machines in a mere 90 minutes.


If the push to digitize voting continues, the vulnerabilities – exploitable by both international and domestic hackers – must be addressed to protect the integrity of peoples mandate in a democracy.

Potential Defenses
Although the search for a secure universal system has proved less fruitful so far, a few suggestions deserve consideration. The reality is that no online system can ever be fully secure, as technological advances often reveal new types of breaches. However, by pooling existing information, it is possible to create a complex comprehensive system that is impenetrable.
Virtual Private Networks
This diverse software has already remedied privacy concerns in many areas of our life. Businesses regularly develop private networks to protect company data from going astray. The app is also becoming popular amongst individuals for staying safe when using public internet connections. Virtual Private Networks work by utilizing a proxy service is also popular. When you access the internet, the VPN programs detour via an alternate server before connecting. This initial network is fully encrypted, and records of your activity remain inaccessible. While creating a proxy network that existed on a national level would produce some obstacles, the essence of the technology is a great starting point for securing electronic voting.

Two-Factor Authentication

Another suggestion surfaced in 2016 from researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK. The idea, named Du Vote, is reminiscent of the two-factor authentication systems used by many finance and email services. In short, it involves each voter receiving a unique hardware token, set to provide an individual code. The code would be entered into the online voting forum to authenticate each person’s vote. This tactic would negate the risk of fraudulent votes being injected by outside hackers.


Paper Trail
One theory is already in practice in parts of United States. It works on the idea that physical votes can never be hacked. So, by installing EVMs with ticket receipts that print after each vote provides authentication. Although this won’t stop hackers editing the software, it will allow moderators to investigate contested results. By counting the receipt numbers against the votes cast, it will highlight any fraudulent results.
It’s clear that the electoral process is changing. The advancements in technology are set to impact all elements of our life but, as this happens, being stringent about repercussions is unavoidable. If we want to maintain a transparent and trusted democratic process, we must address this evolving threat more urgently.


About the Author: Carla Rghtsideoftruth is an active journalist in the world of alternative media. She believes we have a responsibility to observe and impact the global narrative in order to make the world a better place for all!

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