Meddling threatens election security

On Oct 19th, the Department of Justice charged Russia-based accountant Elena Khusyaynova for attempted meddling in the 2018 midterm elections, marking the first criminal case over alleged Russian interference. From spending millions on targeted social media ads to hacking computers to obtain classified information, the tactics of Russia, China and Iran have created insecurity and uncertainty for the past and future by undermining the 2016 presidential elections and meddling in the upcoming elections. Although the charge against Khusyaynova may be the first criminal case regarding election interference, it is clear that the threat is far from resolved–the security of the 2018 midterm elections remains in jeopardy.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been condemned for their lack of action on removing targeted social media accounts designed to sway voters. Facebook’s handling of the problem of fake news during the 2016 election received intense backlash, with lawmakers criticizing CEO Mark Zuckerberg for being too slow to address the problem. Despite the implementation of increased regulation and anti-fake news policies, the spread of misinformation and targeted political ads through social media remains a large threat to the integrity of elections.
“Due to the lack of security in the last election, I do not particularly trust the results of it. In my opinion, there is much that the government can do in order to remedy flaws in their security; however, upholding the rights of the citizens can prove to be difficult. Investigations that involve security tend to look deeper into people’s personal lives and can even violate their rights,” Sophomore Allison Wang said.
It is a challenge for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to promise complete election security without a massive financial investment or serious infringement on the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. On one hand, protecting the elections is important in preserving the voices of the people–but if security is bolstered through an increase in investigations that prod too deeply into one’s personal life, it has the possibility of violating the rights of the citizens. As a result, in order to address the cyber threat, the DHS is working to increase communication between election officials and the general public.
Congress has proposed the Secure Elections Act to give the DHS the responsibility of tracking suspicious incidents regarding cybersecurity by working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and would have allowed a $250 million grant for states in order to fund accurate vote counting. Outdated vote-counting technology would be replaced by a new process of comparing paper ballots to electronic records to ensure no interference has taken place. However, this act was not passed by Congress due to a lack of Republican support; Republicans in the House of Representatives believe that states are already receiving adequate funds accounting to the fact that $380 million was previously allotted for upgrading security.
Currently, the DHS is planning on deploying cyber intrusion sensors, dubbed “Albert,” which report any malware signatures to Security Operations Centers in order to prevent threats prior to the elections. The DHS also intends to keep a close eye on election day—mainly concentrating on any vulnerabilities and infiltration points. Following the controversial 2016 presidential elections, this year, the U.S. is better equipped for the coming midterm elections with increased awareness and government-funded preemptive measures against foreign threats.
However, the damage may already be done: according to a Unisys survey published Oct. 24, nearly 1 in 5 Americans will not vote in the midterm elections because they fear that due to a lack of security, their vote will not make a difference. This distrust in the elections may be even more impactful than a direct attack on U.S. servers come the midterm elections. Through social media and fake news, outside influences have already made a mark on the minds of Americans–and by consequence, their votes.