One of many areas of controversy that has been stirred up since Donald Trump has been elected as President of the United States is if the electronic voting system used in the 2016 election was actually hacked by Russian intelligence to swing the vote in Donald Trump’s favor. Contrary to evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence, Donald Trump has continued to deny that any hack ever took place and that he was rightfully elected instead of popular candidate Hilary Clinton. By exploring what voting systems we use, information warfare, how social media influenced the 2016 election, and intelligence gathered surrounding the attack, hopefully attacks such as these can be prevented in the future. The Russian attack on the American voting system in the 2016 election is an eye opener that security can have vast improvements to prevent information warfare from happening in not only future elections, but in all aspects of security the United States possesses.
Currently there are four different types of voting equipment that are widely used today. These are: optical/digital scanning, direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, ballot marking device (BMD), and hand counting. “Since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 required replacing older lever and punch card voting machines, jurisdictions across the country primarily use two types of technology for tabulating votes: optical (or digital) scanners to count paper ballots, or Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) machines. There are also ballot marking devices which provide an electronic interface for voters with disabilities to mark a paper ballot. And, a few small jurisdictions hand count paper ballots (NCSL, 2018).”
For optical/digital scanning, ballots are marked on paper by the voter and in turn scanned into a system in the polling place or collected and scanned in a centralized location. With direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting, a voting machine is used in which voters can directly vote by manually touching the screen to input their selections. Ballot marking devices (BMD) are often used for people with disabilities but can be used for anyone. Like DRE, ballot marking devices records a voter’s choices on a screen, but uniquely does not automatically submit their completed ballot. Alternately, it prints out the voter’s selections and is either hand counted or scanned from there. The least widely used voting technique in this day and age is hand counting paper ballots. Smaller jurisdictions in the U.S. use this practice and in instances where there are absentee ballots or provisional ballots (NCSL, 2018).
According to PBS news, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a top-secret campaign to influence America’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton. In an unclassified document that was gathered by U.S. intelligence, there are numerous infractions listed. From hacking into email accounts of the Democratic National Committee to using paid trolls to make heinous comments on various social media sites, it is clear that these attacks were very deliberate. The report also states that the attack was not only political, but personal as well. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency,” it said. “We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump (Riechmann, 2017).” The reason stated as to why Putin ordered this was because he most likely was trying to discredit Hilary Clinton. He allegedly blames her for inciting mass protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012 and did not approve of ill comments made towards him from Clinton.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence backs up these claims with their findings and research regarding the tampering by the Russians in the 2016 elections. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2017).” All three agencies complied with this judgment. The CIA and FBI have high confidence with these findings and the NSA has moderate confidence.
Some evidence that they found was that Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to “undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2017).” Russia’s effort to influence this election, has proven that they have had a signification escalation of directness in their efforts compared to previous operations of theirs that have been directed to the U.S. It has been assessed that the Kremlin’s recognition of the worldwide effects that mass disclosures of U.S data that many have achieved in more recent years (ie: WikiLeaks) has left the U.S. vulnerable since Russia deemed the U.S. of having gaps or weaknesses in security.
In short, security needs to be vamped up and nations cannot see weaknesses such as these as more attacks will come if it is thought that our security is not unique enough to withstand such widespread attacks such as this. It has been assessed by intelligence furthermore, that Russian intelligence will continue to develop capabilities to provide Putin with options to use against the U.S. Spearphising of government officials was one way that Russian intelligence very early on in their efforts to hack the voting systems. They could use intelligence gained for future influence efforts “as well as foreign intelligence collection on the incoming administration’s goals and plans (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2017).”
It has also been discovered in these findings that a journalist who was the leading expert for Internet Research Agency claimed that various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) appeared to be in fact tied to Russia’s professional trolls. These same trolls performed similar actions in the Ukraine and advocated for President Trump as early as 2015. This way, they influenced via social media their ideals with fake news posts in order to influence voters with false information.
In the enlightening article, Here’s How to Keep Russian Hackers from Attacking the 2018 Elections, J. Alex Halderman argues that the 2016 election hacking by the Russians was only the beginning when it comes to technological warfare. Ten years ago, Halderman was a part of one of the first teams to research a comprehensive study of the direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine. Their findings were that it is possible to reprogram a voting machine to ensure that a particular candidate wins, without leaving a trace.
Specifically, that a malicious software code could be developed that spread from machine to machine, much like that as a computer virus. Since this, “cybersecurity experts have studied a wide range of U.S. voting machines- including both touch screens and optical scanners- and in every single case, they found severe vulnerabilities that would allow attackers to sabotage machines or alter votes (Halderman, 2017).” A simple question in regard to these findings Halderman asks is why has Congress not acted after these findings? The answer Halderman proposes is fairly simple: lawmakers need a straight forward policy to fix the current system. “Beyond voting machines, there are softer targets that are more exposed to remote hacking, including electronic voting rolls, vote-tallying servers and state elections websites. These are the sorts of electronic resources that Russian hackers seem to have infiltrated in 2016.
There is no evidence the hackers changed anything, but there is also no guarantee they will not try in the future (Halderman, 2017).” This is why the need for change is so serious and that lawmakers need to make every effort possible to combat this information warfare that has been occurring.
In his article, The Current State of Information Warfare, author Joshua Danielson argues that nation-state information warfare is no surprise to technologists. Danielson states, “In a country where only roughly 58% of eligible voters showed up to 2016 polls, we need to raise our standard of vigilance, starting with the quality of information that we process. Needless to say, when 67% of people get at least some portion of their news from social media, we’re not likely to be the best-informed group of individuals given today’s standard of quality (Danielson, 2018).”
So, what is the answer? There are currently numerous solutions that are in the works. Some examples of steps that have been taken are as follows: “Facebook is beginning to let users rank trustworthiness of news sources. Ad blockers are beginning to integrate “fake news” blocking into web browsers, with the Google Chrome web store now hosting several add-ons to block fake news sources (Danielson, 2018).” These steps are just the beginning of what is to come. The more advanced our technology is and progresses, the more security will have to be in place because as the sophistication of technology develops, so will the level of expertise these hackers have.
In an article posted by the Washington Post, America is Still Unprepared for a Russian attack on our Elections, contrary to the U.S. spending upward of 300 million dollars in securing the upcoming election, their efforts are still not enough. “As this year’s midterm elections approach, the country is still unprepared for another Russian attack on the vote, and President Donald Trump continues to send mixed signals (America is still unprepared for a Russian attack on our elections, 2018).” Even though most states recognize that obsolete machines must be replaced, there has not been a significant amount of change when it comes to the means of voting. In the 2016 election, 14 states in fact used “the worst of the worst-paperless electronic machines that leave behind no physical record of cast votes (America is still unprepared for a Russian attack on our elections, 2018).”
What needs to happen before the sophistication of the voting machines, is the U.S.’ ability to deter these types of attacks in the first place. What is perhaps a very disturbing notion that is proposed in this article is that Trump’s fixation on appeasing Putin could actually backfire and could possibly lead Russian government officials the false pretense that they would face few consequences for meddling in U.S. elections again since there were no consequences for the 2016 election. Before changes in security, a priority for President Trump should be a “shift in presidential attitude which could be the quickest and most effective way of responding to election threats (America is still unprepared for a Russian attack on our elections, 2018).”
Although Trump has constantly denied any claim that Russia hacked the 2016 election, “calling it a made-up story, ridiculous, and a hoax (Mayer, 2018),” he has contrarily stated that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are constantly trying to hack U.S. networks, including the Democratic National Committee’s (Riechmann, 2017).” So, while he does acknowledge that these hacks are being attempted by multiple countries, he completely discounts a possibility this could have happened during the 2016 election. These two beliefs seem to be contradictory. To discount there is even a possibility of this happening, while still acknowledging that countries are constantly trying to technology within the U.S. simply does not make sense. Trump has said that as President, he “would appoint a team to develop a plan to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks (Riechmann, 2017).” If this has happened yet is the million-dollar question.
In conclusion, there has been strong evidence to support that the Russians hacked the 2016 election in which President Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency. Contrary to this very evidence, President Trump constantly denies that this ever happened and that this information gathered is false. What needs to be questioned as a nation, is what can be done to ensure this never happens in the future. Information is more real now than it ever has been due to the sophistication of technology. Because of this, extra measures need to be taken to ensure that the various voting techniques that are used are using the most secure and most complex technology that can field any hacking attempts in future elections. In addition to fine tuning voting machines, there needs to be repercussions for actions such as these that have taken place. With Russia facing no consequences of meddling in this election, what is to stop them from doing the same in future elections?