Hackers, Voters, and Elections (Oh my!)

I was in Dalton on Tuesday for the campaign stop that Governor Mike Pence made to help rally support in what should be a red state in a normal presidential year.  As we’ve seen, 2016 has been all but normal and extra mean by offing great people like Gene Wilder and Abe Vigoda (God rest their souls).  In other words, we aren’t taking Georgia’s Republican status for granted regardless of what you think about current polling.

About a month ago, Donald Trump was setting the stage to pin a potential Election Day loss on a “rigged” election.  This is in line with his accusations of the Republican Party blocking his nomination.  It’s unfortunate that our nominee is trying to set up an excuse and set doubt into minds of supporters in our election process in the event we wake up to ‘President-elect Hillary Clinton’.

Just because Donald Trump tries to make it a campaign issue doesn’t mean we should ignore that voter fraud happens and that states shouldn’t work to ensure fair and secure elections. The FBI said earlier in the week that they believe that Russian hackers were behind cyberattacks against election systems in Arizona back in June.  Arizona’s Republican Secretary of State said the threat was credible and significant, so he shut down the online voter registration system for a week.  It was later verified that the attack didn’t breach any systems but did compromise an account of one election official.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) is treading with caution on the involvement of federal officials in elections. As Kevin wrote earlier this week, Secretary Kemp is not too keen on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s idea of reclassifying election systems as “critical infrastructure”.  A reclassification of that level would allow the federal government to circumvent a state’s authority on administrating elections on a perceived threat of a cyber attack.

A question was asked of Governor Pence on what was being done to prevent voter fraud and hacking.  Pence made note that he has made a formal inquiry to the Indiana Secretary of State into the integrity and security of their state’s election systems.  He also reminded the audience that it’s up to citizens to ensure secure elections by volunteering to be poll watchers and poll workers.

I certainly hope that Secretary Kemp is being proactive and working to maintain the security of our elections systems including things like monitoring and penetration tests to see where vulnerabilities are.  The reality is that cyber warfare is more of the norm rather than the exception.  State-sponsored and nefarious individuals are launching attacks on large companies, financial networks, and government systems for profit and to cause havoc.

You must be vigilant as a user and work to protect yourself:

  • Make sure that your computer and mobile operating systems are up-to-date with the latest patches.
  • Run a good anti-virus system on your computer (check with your ISP as most large providers make one available to customers) and keep it up-to-date as well.
  • Make strong passwords using a combination of lower and uppercase letters, special characters, and numbers.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links from emails that look strange.  Trust your gut.
  • Be wary of Facebook friends who suddenly create a new Facebook profile and friend you.
  • Never give out your password.  No one in IT or at the Help Desk should ever ask you for your password.
  • Don’t use Adobe Flash.  Just don’t.

That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough for most folks to be on the lookout for potential traps.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular Joe checking your email and bank account, or if you’re an elected official (and I know we have a few who read our fine blog) that has access to systems with sensitive data, we must be aware of our environment.  Be careful out there.

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We’ve all been concerned with someone being able to alter vote totals but these attacks are targeting voter registration files. Very clever. If you could get in there undetected you could change records and who would know.