U.S. Launching Cyber War Against Russia Over Election Interference
Unprecedented Action Highlights Vulnerability of Presidential Election to Hackers
According to NBC news, the CIA is currently preparing to launch an unprecedented Cyber War against Russia and some top Russian leaders as retaliation for what has now been clearly identified as Russian interference in the forthcoming U.S. presidential election.
This definitely includes the recent hacking of the election systems in Arizona and Illinois, and probably the release of emails damaging to Democrats for which Russia is also believed to be responsible.
All this serves to further strengthen and validate a report that the U.S. faces a “perfect storm” of possible election fraud in the forthcoming presidential election, according to Professor John Banzhaf.
Banzhaf started hacking in the late 1950s, and his computer technique for determining the chance that any particular voter or small group of voters could change the outcome of a presidential election – now called “The Banzhaf Index” – has been widely adopted and utilized.
Just weeks after the release of a report showing how easy it would be for Russians or even high school nerds to hack a presidential election, two other professors have just proven it, notes Banzhaf.
Professor Alex Halderman was able to infiltrate a voting system from 500 miles away, and, in another demonstration, manipulate voting results with only a screwdriver and some memory chips.
Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to hack an election machine in only 7 minutes.
There is a “perfect storm” – an unusual combination of at least five factors drastically heightening risk – heading towards our coming elections, perhaps even the presidential election, says Banzhaf.
Cyber War – Scary revelations
First, one of the scariest revelations of the FBI report on the recent hacking of election systems in two states shows that the hackers did not require much sophistication or secret hacker knowhow. On the contrary, notes Banzhaf, the intruders used hacking tools widely available and easily obtained from the Internet. Thus, our vulnerability is not limited to a group of master hackers or foreign countries with vast resources, he notes. The FBI shows how and why we could be hacked by teens from many countries.
The second element of the perfect storm into which our presidential election may be heading is that we use the Electoral College rather than have a direct election for the president.
That’s important, he explains, because, under our Electoral College system, any rigging or hacking which resulted in a change in even a very small number of votes, and perhaps even only a small number of votes in one individual state, could change the outcome of the presidential election, something very unlikely to occur were there to be a direct nationwide presidential election.
He reminds us of how the 2000 presidential election was decided by fewer than 1000 votes out of almost 6 million cast in Florida; so a hack of 600 votes could have resulted in a different president.
A third element of the perfect storm facing the presidential election, and well as many state and local ones, is the increased use of electronic voting machines (especially where they leave no paper trail).
While some electronic voting machines do generate paper records so that some type of audit trail is available if hacking is suspected, too many do not. This can create what Wired’s Brian Barrett terms a “technological train wreck” because, if some one tampered with the machine’s software, there would be no way to prove it by comparing real votes with machine tallies.
A fourth factor making the perfect storm an even greater threat is that more and more of the computers and data processing devices used in the election process are connected to the Internet.
After all, if the Pentagon, Sony, the White House, the Iranian nuclear centrifuge control system (which was reportedly not even connected to the Internet), SWIFT (the international banking exchange system), the State Department, Aramco oil company, Yahoo, and many other large seemingly impregnable computer systems – with strong firewalls, updated malware protection, etc. – can be hacked, what guarantee is there that the more primitive systems in any large city or county aren’t at least as vulnerable.
If these mighty fortresses of system security can be breached, it seems clear that many state and local systems – which do not have highly trained experts watching over them, insuring that all their software is up to date, constantly checking for malware and intrusions, etc. – are at least as vulnerable.
Actually, say some experts, even computer systems which are not connected to the Internet may be vulnerable to hacking. One way is through the use of voting cards – cards which look and act somewhat like credit cards which permit citizens to vote on voting machines into which the cards are inserted.
Simple alterations of the data recorded on such cards could permit a single voter to cast hundreds of votes on one visit to the voting machine. Depending on the software’s sophistication, the proper card in the hands of a hacker might even permit him to alter the software, change the vote totals directly, etc.
A fifth on-line vulnerability is that some states permit residents to cast their votes from home over the Internet. Thus, in addition to sending in fraudulent votes from a hacker’s computer, scammers might be able to trick voters into sending in their votes for a different candidate, or to providing scammers with the necessary information to send in a phony vote – just as scammers now get their victims to provide credit card numbers and other vital information, or even to have their computers serve as “slave” computers.
Cyber War – The Godfather
It was said in the Godfather movie that “The lawyer with a briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun.” Today what’s even more scary is that a teenage hacker with easily available malware may be able to steal more votes than any corrupt mayor or governor.
So, to the extent that we are worried, or even concerned. when experts warn that hackers could hack into and even take over our electrical distribution system, banking and stock trading computers, flight control operations, etc., we should take the threat of a hacked 2016 presidential election at least as seriously.
CNN reluctantly reports that “we’ve officially entered the era of the hackable [presidential] election.” Mother Jones reports that “the concern that somebody might try to hack voting machines no longer seems outlandish.” Politico says a computer expert remarked that if some of the more susceptible voting machines hadn’t yet been hacked, “it was only because no one tried.”
Money magazine says we’ve officially entered the era of the hackable election. Wired claims that the move toward electric voting machines turned out to be a “technological train wreck.” And ABC TV News featured a piece entitled “Yes, It’s Possible to Hack the Election.”
Cyber War – Preventing future attacks
Ironically, some of the biggest risks could be eliminated by taking a few simple steps, says Banzhaf. Using only election machines which create an audit trail, disconnecting election machines and related computers from the Internet, eliminating voting from home over the Internet, insisting that all voting systems be maintained with up-do-date firewalls and malware detection programs manned by experts, etc. would be important steps which could make a big difference, he says.
Banzhaf notes that hackers and others don’t have to actually alter the outcome of the presidential elections to do incalculable harm. Simply casting doubt on the validity of the results, especially if the losing nominee and/or his supporters voice suspicion concerning the outcome, could undermine the faith of millions in the entire election process, he predicts.
If some results appears suspicious, or only a few voting machine display clearly exaggerated results, or if the word “hacked” or a picture of Guy Fawkes appears on the screens of a few computers used to compile votes, disappointed voters could become very upset, and then riot or worse to express what appears to be justified outrage.
A few bytes of prevention may be more important than megabytes of attempted cure, says former hacker, well-known mathematician, and now public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
He adds that a first strike by the CIA would also be important, especially considering that it may be too late to significantly strengthen our current election system.