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Questions about the integrity of voting mechanisms remain just as pressing now in the 2018 election cycle as they were in 2016. So-called “hacktivists” continued to stage attacks in 2017, and hackers are expected to attempt to manipulate, influence or obstruct the 2018 election process across the country. To understand how your local election could be affected this time around, let’s briefly look back at what happened in 2016.

Election Hacking in 2016

The 2016 election has been under investigation for hacking and other forms of voter manipulation for the past two years. The extent of efforts by hackers to manipulate the outcome of the election isn’t fully known yet. Even so, several high-profile cases of hacking have surfaced during the investigation.

Local Elections at Risk

Maurice Turner, a senior technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, outlines the three biggest cybersecurity targets in local elections for 2018 and beyond:

  • Voter Registration: Hackers may target state databases containing voter information, which would allow them to alter registration, identification and/or party affiliation information.
  • County Websites: Hackers may attempt to take down county websites and servers using a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS) to delay or access election results after polls close.
  • Social Media: Hackers may breach official social media accounts for different counties in order to supply misinformation that confuses voters and discourages voter participation.

These aren’t the only threats facing local elections, however. A skilled hacker might employ a range of methods to disrupt a local election. Phishing and spear-phishing attacks, for instance, were commonly employed during the 2016 election. They often targeted top campaign officials.

Even then, a disruption to an election at the local scale doesn’t have to include a hacking attempt. Social engineering tactics employed through social media remain potent tools. Social media accounts designed to stimulate undecided voters in local elections or otherwise seed opinions and perspectives could sway votes in some areas.

Are the 2018 Elections Safe?

The 2018 local elections are run by townships, counties and local jurisdictions that may be ill-equipped to defend against a cybersecurity threat. There are over 10,000 local elections being held this November, and all of them are potential targets for hackers if those local elections haven’t put reliable security measures in place.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen downplayed the threat to the 2018 election in official statements, but it’s still important for voters and administrators to stay alert and be aware of where information and emails are coming from.


About the Author: Victoria Schmid enjoys writing about technology for the “everyday” person. She is a specialist in online business marketing and consumer technology. She has a background in broadcast journalism.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.

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