The CIA is preparing to launch a cyber assault against Russia. According to NBC News, some top Russian brass will be targeted as retaliation for what has now been identified as Russian interference in the forthcoming U.S. presidential election.
Recently, election systems in Arizona and Illinois were hacked and certain emails were released, damaging the reputation of Democrats. The CIA believes that Russia is responsible.
Vice President Joe Biden told Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
According to Prof. John Banzhaf, 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.
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, said 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 seven 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.
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 the 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 1,000 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 elections, 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 online 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.
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.
[Featured Photo by John Minchillo/AP Images]