By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Amid the ongoing 2019 mayoral elections and an increasing number of nationwide data breaches, Chicago beefed up cybersecurity controls to defend against potential voter fraud and hacking.
Yet, the cybersecurity environment remains flawed and technology challenges facing the government cast doubts on maintaining the reliability of electronic voting, according to cybersecurity experts.
The decentralized U.S. election landscape
The U.S. election ecosystem is distributed across states, counties and municipalities. Because each jurisdiction runs its own election and the environment is highly decentralized, there is luckily no single location through which a foreign hacker can attack the entire system. But damage can still be done.
“Hackers can change the attitude of people toward an election system. That’s what we need to protect ourselves against,” said Sujeet Shenoi, director of the Cyber Security Education Consortium, during a panel discussion organized by Global Cyber Security Initiative (GCSI) on Feb.25. “But as far as technical hacking is concerned, it’s very hard to have a large-scale electoral change.”
Yet, because elections tend to be run at local levels, some jurisdictions may lack the technical expertise to defend against foreign hackers.
“It’s so decentralized – a lot of these jurisdictions are small and don’t even have an IT department,” said Kevin McDermott, chief technology officer of Cook County Clerk’s Office.
Toward that end, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funded grants last year for the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center to strengthen cyber threat prevention.
“In Illinois, we have the Cyber Navigator Program, which takes federal money to create a cybersecurity mechanism,” McDermott said. “There’s a great deal of energy at both local and national levels to build the infrastructure, both physical and information-wise, and to develop protocols for each organization.
This video, produced by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was shown at the panel discussion.