Hacking the Election: A Panel on Electoral Security


election-hacking-pictureBy David Duesing, MPP 2018

In light of accusations of both domestic and international interference in this year’s election from both parties’ presidential candidates, the JFK Jr. Forum hosted a panel of electoral security experts on Thursday, October 27 to discuss current security measures in place for U.S. elections, as well as potential techniques to maintain high levels of security in the future. Dr. Michael Sulmeyer, the Belfer Center’s Cyber Security Project director, moderated. Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, Dmitri Alperovitch, the founder of CrowdStrike, and Ben Buchanan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Belfer Center’s Cyber Security Project, deliberated on issues such as Russia’s role in hacking U.S. servers and the possibility of a rigged election.

Alperovitch, a member of the team recruited to determine the origin of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) server hacking, recounted how he was able to identify the hackers as originating from Russia due to previous offenses from the same hackers, who his team named “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” Having propagated the idea that the U.S. government, by means of the CIA, interfered in previous elections in Ukraine, the Russian government has positioned itself—according to Alperovitch—so as to accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy in complaining against Russian interference in the current U.S. election. In spite of its false accusations against the U.S., Aperovitch claimed that Russia itself actually used hacking techniques to affect the outcome of the 2014 elections in Ukraine, setting up a blueprint for their current work in the U.S. presidential election.

Addressing means to improve electoral security, Buchanan highlighted specific steps the U.S. government could follow to prevent a rigged or hacked election, including policies to safeguard elections with force. Buchanan also underscored the importance of identifying the source of cyber security attacks, citing attribution of an attack as a key component of cyber security.

With an expertise in the specific workings of elections across the U.S., Smith identified the difficulty of rigging an election along the lines of what Donald Trump is suggesting, as each state independently runs its own election. She did admit, however, that certain states’ voter registration databases have been hacked this year, and that protecting those databases is a key priority. The Department of Homeland Security is also working in 40 states this election cycle to provide cyber risk assessment and mitigation assistance.