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How Vulnerable to Hacking Is the U.s. Election Cyber Infrastructure?

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Ohio citizens using electronic voting machines during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Worries abound that foreign nations may be clandestinely involved in the 2016 American presidential campaign, writes University of Maryland, Baltimore County cybersecurity senior lecturer Richard Forno.

Credit: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuter

Adversaries' growing use of cyberweapons to influence target groups in the U.S. is provoking concern that the U.S. electoral process is at risk due to a lack of trustworthiness in e-voting systems, writes University of Maryland, Baltimore County cybersecurity senior lecturer Richard Forno.

Forno says the vulnerability of such technologies is recognized by voting officials, and this vulnerability can be multiplied by e-voting's reliance on a distributed network.

Securing this system initially requires tamper-proofing the "internals" of each voting machine at the point of manufacture, with each machine's software kept tamper-proof and accountable, along with the vote data it retains. Machines with flaws must be taken out of service and corrected, and once votes are culled from individual machines, the compiled results must be sent from polling places to higher election offices for official consolidation, tabulation, and final statewide reporting. This requires tamper-proof network connections that thwart interception or modification of the counts while in transit, and the software of state-level vote tabulation systems must be trustworthy, accountable, and resistant to unauthorized data modification.

Other threats that must be factored in include those targeting the integrity of voter registration and administration systems, and human vulnerability.

Forno says countering these dangers requires regularly applying best practices of cybersecurity, data protection, information access, and other objectively developed, responsibly deployed processes.

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