Essays in the Category “Elections”
With election meddling inevitable in 2020, the United States needs a powerful kill chain.
Influence operations are elusive to define. The Rand Corp.’s definition is as good as any: “the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.” Basically, we know it when we see it, from bots controlled by the Russian Internet Research Agency to Saudi attempts to plant fake stories and manipulate political debate. These operations have been run by Iran against the United States, Russia against Ukraine, China against Taiwan, and probably lots more besides.
Since the 2016 U.S.
The Internet was going to set us all free. At least, that is what U.S. policy makers, pundits, and scholars believed in the 2000s. The Internet would undermine authoritarian rulers by reducing the government’s stranglehold on debate, helping oppressed people realize how much they all hated their government, and simply making it easier and cheaper to organize protests.
What do attacks on the integrity of our voting systems, the census and the judiciary all have in common? They're all intended to reduce our faith in systems necessary for our democracy to function, and they're also targets of Russian propaganda efforts.
To understand how these efforts can effectively undermine a democracy, it helps to think of a government as an information system. In this conceptualization, there are two types of knowledge that governments use to function.
On November 4, 2016, the hacker "Guccifer 2.0," a front for Russia's military intelligence service, claimed in a blogpost that the Democrats were likely to use vulnerabilities to hack the presidential elections. On November 9, 2018, President Donald Trump started tweeting about the senatorial elections in Florida and Arizona. Without any evidence whatsoever, he said that Democrats were trying to steal the election through "FRAUD."
Cybersecurity experts would say that posts like Guccifer 2.0's are intended to undermine public confidence in voting: a cyber-attack against the US democratic system. Yet Donald Trump's actions are doing far more damage to democracy.
Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose.
This week brought new public evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 election. On Monday, the Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency document describing Russian hacking attempts against the U.S. election system. While the attacks seem more exploratory than operational — and there's no evidence that they had any actual effect — they further illustrate the real threats and vulnerabilities facing our elections, and they point to solutions.
But letting people use the internet to register to vote is a start.
Technology can do a lot more to make our elections more secure and reliable, and to ensure that participation in the democratic process is available to all. There are three parts to this process.
First, the voter registration process can be improved. The whole process can be streamlined.
President Barack Obama's public accusation of Russia as the source of the hacks in the US presidential election and the leaking of sensitive emails through WikiLeaks and other sources has opened up a debate on what constitutes sufficient evidence to attribute an attack in cyberspace. The answer is both complicated and inherently tied up in political considerations.
The administration is balancing political considerations and the inherent secrecy of electronic espionage with the need to justify its actions to the public. These issues will continue to plague us as more international conflict plays out in cyberspace.
Unproven reports of possible discrepancies in the Rust Belt just show how untrustworthy the system is.
Was the 2016 presidential election hacked? It's hard to tell. There were no obvious hacks on Election Day, but new reports have raised the question of whether voting machines were tampered with in three states that Donald Trump won this month: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The researchers behind these reports include voting rights lawyer John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, both respected in the community.
Russia has attacked the U.S. in cyberspace in an attempt to influence our national election, many experts have concluded. We need to take this national security threat seriously and both respond and defend, despite the partisan nature of this particular attack.
There is virtually no debate about that, either from the technical experts who analyzed the attack last month or the FBI which is analyzing it now.
If Russia really is responsible, there's no reason political interference would end with the DNC emails.
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 reportedly concluded.
The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come.
Advertising in the 2016 election is going to be highly personalized, targeting voters’ personal information to sway their decisions
This presidential election, prepare to be manipulated.
In politics, as in the marketplace, you are the consumer. But you only have one vote to "spend" per election, and in November you'll almost always only have two possible candidates on which to spend it.
In every election, both of those candidates are going to pull every trick in the surveillance-driven, highly personalized internet advertising world to get you to vote for them.
As the College of Cardinals prepares to elect a new pope, security people like me wonder about the process. How does it work, and just how hard would it be to hack the vote?
The rules for papal elections are steeped in tradition. John Paul II last codified them in 1996, and Benedict XVI left the rules largely untouched.
Over the past several months, the state of California conducted the most comprehensive security review yet of electronic voting machines. People who I consider to be security experts analyzed machines from three different manufacturers, performing both a red-team attack analysis and a detailed source-code review. Serious flaws were discovered in all machines, and as a result the machines were all decertified for use in California elections.
The reports are worth reading, as is much of the blog commentary on the topic.
In the world of voting, automatic recount laws are not uncommon. Virginia, where George Allen lost to James Webb in the Senate race by 7,800 out of over 2.3 million votes, or 0.33 percent percent, is an example. If the margin of victory is 1 percent or less, the loser is allowed to ask for a recount. If the margin is 0.5 percent or less, the government pays for it.
This essay also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Last week in Florida's 13th Congressional district, the victory margin was only 386 votes out of 153,000. There'll be a mandatory lawyered-up recount, but it won't include the almost 18,000 votes that seem to have disappeared. The electronic voting machines didn't include them in their final tallies, and there's no backup to use for the recount.
In the aftermath of the American presidential election on 2 November 2004, electronic voting machines are again in the news. Computerised machines lost votes, subtracted votes, and doubled some votes too. And because many of these machines have no paper audit trails, a large number of votes will never be counted.
While it is unlikely that deliberate voting-machine fraud changed the result of this presidential election, the internet is buzzing with rumours and allegations in a number of different jurisdictions and races.
Why is it so hard to run an honest election?
Four years after the Florida debacle of 2000 and two years after Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, voting problems are again in the news: confusing ballots, malfunctioning voting machines, problems over who's registered and who isn't. All this brings up a basic question: Why is it so hard to run an election?
A fundamental requirement for a democratic election is a secret ballot, and that's the first reason. Computers regularly handle multimillion-dollar financial transactions, but much of their security comes from the ability to audit the transactions after the fact and correct problems that arise.
Voting seems like the perfect application for technology, but actually applying it is harder than it first appears. To ensure that voters can vote honestly, they need anonymity, which requires a secret ballot. Through the centuries, different civilizations have done their best with the available technologies. Stones and pottery shards dropped in Greek vases led to paper ballots dropped in sealed boxes.
Many discussions of voting systems and their relative integrity have been primarily technical, focusing on the difficulty of attacks and defenses. This is only half of the equation: it's not enough to know how much it might cost to rig an election by attacking voting systems; we also need to know how much it would be worth to do so. Our illustrative example uses the most recent available U.S. data, but is otherwise is not intended to be specific to any particular political party.
Paperless voting machines threaten the integrity of democratic process by what they don't do.
Voting problems associated with the 2000 U.S. Presidential election have spurred calls for more accurate voting systems. Unfortunately, many of the new computerized voting systems purchased today have major security and reliability problems.
The ideal voting technology would have five attributes: anonymity, scalability, speed, audit, and accuracy (direct mapping from intent to counted vote).
In the wake of the presidential election, pundits have called for more accurate voting and vote counting. To most people, this obviously means more technology. But before jumping to conclusions, let's look at the security and reliability issues surrounding voting technology.
Most of Florida's voting problems are a direct result of "translation" errors stemming from too much technology.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.