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The Coronavirus, Cyberthreats and the 2020 U.S. Election

The Coronavirus, Cyberthreats and the 2020 U.S. Election

The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the world not only from a health perspective, but economically as well. And now, the United States is facing an election where those health concerns could impact the voting process. As seen during some state primaries, the pandemic has caused citizens to find voting methods that don’t lead to being exposed. With just three weeks until Election Day, two-thirds of Americans say it is very likely the coronavirus outbreak will significantly disrupt people’s ability to vote in the presidential election.

Election experts are looking ahead to November and warning that the pandemic is already threatening the safety and integrity of the 2020 elections. Fear of the coronavirus is expediting efforts to allow voting from home, but some of those endeavors pose security risks and may make it easier for nation-states, or others hoping to disrupt, influence or profit from the election, to hack the vote. That means widespread changes will be necessary in all 50 states to pull off the first pandemic-plagued presidential election in American history. And time is running out.

The rush to accommodate remote voting is leading a small number of states to experiment with or expand online voting, an approach the DHS deems “high risk.” It has also put renewed focus on the myriad of online state voter registration systems, which were among the chief targets of Russian hackers in 2016.

While intelligence agencies determined Russian hackers stopped short of manipulating voter data in 2016, they did determine it was likely a dry run for future interference. To head off that threat, the DHS employed the RAND Corporation to re-evaluate the nation’s election vulnerabilities, from poll booths to voter registration systems. RAND’s findings only amplified the fears of government officials: State and local registration databases could be locked by hackers demanding ransomware or manipulated by outside actors. Separately, researchers at University of Michigan and M.I.T. released a study concluding that one platform already facilitating internet and remote voting could, in specific cases, be manipulated to alter votes — without being detected by the voter, election officials or the company that owns it.

There is overwhelming urgency to implement additional safeguards to further secure the elections. A good start would be upgrading firewalls, servers, and acquiring security monitoring tools which are advantageous for fortifying election security infrastructure. But individuals can also help. Trained cyber security professionals are needed to help aid state and local jurisdictions to ensure a secure election process. These individuals are critical and can impart their subject matter expertise to make a difference.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has created an Infosec Toolkit for Election Volunteering. It is a brilliant guide breaking down the election process before, during, and after, and gives those who want to volunteer, a manual on how to be an integral part of achieving a secure election. In this tenuous climate, we as individuals can do our part to guarantee the sanctity and integrity of the election process and democracy itself.

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