Cyber Security Threats to Our Elections, and State and Local Prevention
Much of cyber security is not only done at the NSA, Homeland Security, and McAfee level, but has to be done at the level of individuals and the computers which they operate. The Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta had his computer hacked by responding to a phishing message, which his IT assistant thought was okay. Edward Snowden is supposed to have increased access to classified material by easily borrowing the password of a colleague in his unit. He also removed material in a micro SD card. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was shocked in the last two weeks by finding that her messages (unclassified) had been transferred to a civilian computer by her assistant Huma Abedin for printing, which was shared by her husband, the notorious Anthony Weiner. While the Russians tunneled into the DNC and DCCC computers, it was not publicly revealed how. Revealing Democratic emails forced the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
The point of this history, is that much of protection lies in the hands of individual users, and of local and state government that handles elections. It is up to all of us to secure ourselves against interference by anybody, and appropriate instructions have to be given to all such users.
States and local government control their own voting machines and computers. These are controlled by individuals who may or may not be the IT specialists for the system or network. I know nothing about the many types of voting machines, but if Target’s card readers could be hacked, the voting machines should also be investigated. In the less than 1% victories by Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the voting computers and software should have been investigated, but this was blocked by the Trump campaign. Clearly, for voting to be secure, the software and voting machines should be finely checked by a committee of computer experts, both for cybersecurity, and to check for any basic mistakes in the software itself. Blocking this would show the now typical dominance of political protection over finding the truth, and preventing any future hacking.
On the individual level, every user involved should be locally given a course in cyber protection. I took a short two-hour course at UC Irvine. At the end, they handed out tooth brushes, which said something like: if you wouldn’t share your tooth brush, don’t share your password. Every computer involved in handling voter totals should be equipped with the best cyber-protection software, regardless of the price. Since election computers and machines are only used twice a year at most, they are probably the least examined and protected. The software must be updated with each new protective release. Since some old software becomes unsupported, such as Windows XP, those computers should be replaced. Some protection software is provided by the Russian company Kaspersky. The US security agencies agreed that they would not recommend this software.
The public can’t begin to know what the classified agencies know about current threats. Secretary of State Tillerson summed it up when he said that if the Russians (and Chinese, etc.) want to interfere in the elections, they will find a way. The point is that there are vulnerabilities that are created or discovered by governments that civilians are not told about, because governments need to use them, or because lax civilians won’t protect against them, and criminals will exploit them.
Then there are the complete US computer gerrymandering programs to group the minority party in the state to as few a number of districts as possible, so even a small majority party excess at the state level can dominate state and House representation. This is much more dangerous to democracy since it can be done in each state with, initially, openness and full legal status. Eight years later, we are still slowly getting the courts to rule against these, state by state.
We can be assured that in this year’s elections, we will be bombarded by Big Data companies to direct our votes, whether by air, by land, or by sea, which today means mail, phones, tv, internet, social media, cellphone apps, newspapers, etc. We also will be bombarded by our polarized cable news channels, and the Trump challenges to freedom of speech (even now applied to those “traitorous” Congressional Democrats) and of the “fake news” press, or news media.
Many southern states block released felons from voting, amounting to about 6 million potential voters. Florida leads other states with 1.5 million felons. This is very skewed to disenfranchising minorities and Democrats. Since the popular vote difference in the 2016 presidential election was 3 million in favor of the Democrats, this is a very significant amount.
Republican states also pass voter ID laws, which discriminates against the poor and minorities, and also old people who can no longer drive. Trump is now trying to make this a national requirement, to inconvenience voters in Democratic states as well.
Finally, there is the complete dominance of the Congress by Republicans, who can delay supreme court appointments, and draft whatever legislation they want secretly within their own party, and completely dominate all Congressional committees. Again, perfectly legal. Then they approve whomever they want to lifelong judicial appointments, regardless of review by the American Bar Association.
We have a long, uphill battle. Are the Russians the real threat, or as Cassius says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings”?