Russia’s attack on American elections in 2016, described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report as “sweeping and systematic,” came as a shock to many. It shouldn’t have. Experts had been warning of the danger of foreign meddling in U.S. elections for years. Already by 2016, the wholesale adoption of computerized voting had weakened safeguards against interference and left the United States vulnerable to an attack. So, too, the shift to digital media and communications had opened new gaps in security and the law that could be used for manipulation and blackmail.
Russia—and perhaps other powers like China and Iran—will likely try to exploit these vulnerabilities once again in 2020. The United States was caught flatfooted the last time. Now, nearly three years after the Russian efforts first came to light, the United States has made relatively little progress toward hardening its electoral system against interference. Each day it waits to do so raises the likelihood of another election tainted by significant foreign meddling.
Fortunately, there are still measures that Congress, the Federal Election Commission, and other policymakers can take to substantially blunt a future attack. With just over six months remaining until the New Hampshire primary and the start of 2020 voting, lawmakers and executive branch agencies should make election security a priority by upgrading equipment, guarding against hacking, and combatting foreign influence operations.
SECURE THE EQUIPMENT
A recent Department of Homeland Security report confirms that in 2016, Russia most likely conducted “research and reconnaissance” against election networks in all 50 states. They breached and extracted data from one state registration database, used spear-phishing attacks to gain access to and infect computers at a voting technology company, and successfully breached election networks in at least two Florida counties. The very infrastructure that allows Americans to vote was under attack.
The federal government has made some progress toward safeguarding these systems in the years since. State and local election offices now have greater access to cybersecurity advisers and risk assessments, and the states, the
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