There is a storm brewing, endangering America’s voting infrastructure. It can’t be tracked on radar, although foreign hackers and influence peddlers may already be fully engaged with it.
The Associated Press has completed an exhaustive study of states’ voting procedures, and found that the majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide may, or already do have a serious problem.
It has to do with the use of Microsoft’s Windows 7 software to manage their election process. As of this coming Jan. 14, Windows 7 will reach its official end of life, which means no technical support from Microsoft. Company help will be available, but at a cost — and it’s a safe bet that a majority of elections jurisdictions across the country are already strapped for money, as are the counties that are the final elections authorities.
So, what’s the big deal? Many of us are stuck with using older computer software. The big deal is that older software is easy pickings for hackers at home and abroad, and given the national furor over Russian hacking interference in the 2016 presidential election, the stakes for 2020 could be enormous.
Experts say the situation is an example of what happens when private companies are responsible for determining the level of security in local election systems without much in the form of federal requirements or oversight.
Several key battleground states were found by the AP analysis to be dependent on the Windows 7 software package, including Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
California is not one of the vulnerable states. For one thing, this state’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, which means hackers can’t go there and steal or rearrange voter information. Another safeguard is that all touch-screen voting systems in the state must provide a paper receipt that confirms the electronic outcome. That has been true for nearly a decade and a half.
It helps that California officials assume hacking is and will continue to happen, and that California will be a natural target because of its sheer size and political importance. Also, the state pitched in $134 million a couple of years ago to help counties upgrade their voting systems.
Santa Barbara County’s systems seem relatively safe for the reasons mentioned above, and because county officials invited the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s experts to attempt to hack into county systems. DHS spent nearly a week trying to gain access, but failed.
Having witnessed the county’s voting process while it was happening over the years, we are confident local voters can be fairly sure their voting results will be rock-solid.
But the AP’s examination of potential vote-hacking problems in certain states relying on soon-to-be-obsolete computer software raises a huge red flag, literally and figuratively. Various voting watchdog groups refer to some systems as a “bad joke,” and warn that crippling cyber attacks and an “election cybersecurity crisis” is there, just waiting to happen.
About the only lawmaker actively pushing for change is Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who has insisted Congress pass legislation giving the federal government authority “to mandate basic cybersecurity for election infrastructure …”
Unfortunately, that would require a cooperative Congress, which these days is anything but cooperative. In fact, the two parties have done almost nothing from a legislative standpoint since Democrats won control of the House of Representatives.
These are all elements to be considered when you go to the polls for the next federal election — and keep your fingers crossed that the outcome won’t be tainted by foreign interference.