News Brief

Fears of Voting Machine Hacking Erupts as an Issue in US Election

The potential for Russian hacking of election systems in the 2018 midterm elections has emerged as an urgent and destabilizing issue in the run-up to the U.S. elections. State and local election officials are accused of mismanagement and a lack of focus on the dangers of election systems hacking.

Five U.S. states rely on outdated electronic voting systems with no paper trail, according to The Guardian, which also reported that eight more states will be using antiquated systems vulnerable to Russian cyberattack over at least part of their territory in the upcoming November elections.

States have failed to effectively allocate $380 million in funds that the U.S. Congress authorized in March to upgrade the security of their election security systems for the midterm elections in November. “The big picture is that US election infrastructure remains dangerously vulnerable to cyber-attacks,” Alex Halderman, a leading voting security expert at the University of Michigan, told The Guardian.

Last week, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson sparked a firestorm when he announced that Russia has “penetrated” some Florida voting systems ahead of the midterms. Nelson is in a tight race against Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott, who has accused Nelson of either disclosing classified information or making things up.

California election officials are guarding their voting machines and registration lists against Russian hackers — although no one has spotted any. “I operate under the assumption that hacking is actually happening and California is a target,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in Techwire.

Heightened fears of Russian election hacking in the U.S. comes as 60 Minutes, the CBS investigative TV news magazine, reported that Russian operatives launched a widespread cyber attack against state-level voting systems during the 2016 presidential election. Former officials believe no votes were changed but an Election Day attack could have created chaos at the polls.

Separately, The Columbus Dispatch reported on new data allowing researchers to gauge the scale and techniques of Russian trolls attempting to influence Ohio voters during the 2016 election. Ohio is roughly tied with Florida for fourth place in the number of mentions by Twitter accounts associated with Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg troll factory behind social media campaigns to disrupt US elections.

Twitter informed 1.4 million users in January that they had interacted with Russian trolls.