Cybersecurity professionals are warning that hackers can upend the November elections.
The organizers of the Black Hat USA 2020 cybersecurity conference found that 31% of those attending think the level of cyberattacks and disinformation will be so great that the election results will “always be in doubt,” according to a survey of 273 attendees conducted in advance of the conference.
They cited voting systems, machines and mail-in voting as likely causes of uncertainty surrounding the election results.
The annual conference of cybersecurity experts and hackers from around the world typically meets in Las Vegas but gathered virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Matt Blaze, a computer scientist and Georgetown University law professor, issued a “call to arms” to help the U.S. secure its elections because of the wide range of problems that could materialize before November.
“Every current voting system that’s been examined is terrible in some way and probably exploitable,” Mr. Blaze said at the conference.
He said software touches almost every component of the elections but is hard to secure and Americans need to worry about county election management software, the software in voting machines, and communications protocols that could involve the use of USB sticks.
“The integrity of the election results depends, or can depend, on the integrity of software and hardware,” he said. “The outcome of the election might be under the control of software, so the correctness of any software you’re depending on for that purpose is critically important.”
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs, however, told attendees that 2020 would be the “most protected election in modern history.” Mr. Krebs said the federal government knew of Russia’s attempted election interference in summer 2016 but that it had little effect.
“There’s no information, based on what’s available to us, that [Russians] were able to affect a single vote, to change a single vote through cybersecurity or cyber means,” Mr. Krebs said. “Nothing’s changed on that front, honestly. We still don’t have any information, intelligence or otherwise, that would suggest they are in a position or have a capability to do that.”
While the threats confronting the election are not entirely new, the coronavirus has exacerbated causes for concern, particularly because of increased mail-in voting. Mr. Blaze said he thinks most jurisdictions will not have the funding or resources to eliminate doubt regarding mail-in votes and who may need to vote remotely versus at the ballot box.
The federal government is focused on supporting state voting systems to increase the ability to audit election results. Mr. Krebs said his agency is helping to ensure that more electronic votes have a corresponding paper record. He said 80% of votes cast in 2016 had a paper record, and the country is on track to have 92% of votes cast tied to a paper record this year.
“So 2016, we didn’t know how these elections were run, we didn’t understand the different techniques, the different mechanisms, the different processes, the different systems that were in place across the states,” Mr. Krebs said of his agency. “We’ve invested significant resources, not just analyzing these, but working with our partners to understand the systems they use.”
In the final months before votes are counted, Mr. Krebs urged patience and said voters should be prepared to not learn the outcome of the elections on Election Day, Nov. 3