Presidential Election 2016: Can State-Sponsored Actors Hack the Vote?

The Republican presidential nominee has made much ado about this year's election being rigged. Even before voters hit the polling stations, Donald J. Trump has made it quite clear that the American public should be privy to any cybersecurity threats at the polls. With cyber attacks hitting the DNC this last summer and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promising to release more damning information about Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, the idea of a hacked election doesn't seem too extreme.

But could state-sponsored actors really take over the polls on November 8th and swing the election? Do state governments have any sort of cyber policy in place or cybersecurity to prevent this from happening?

What's Taxing Americans? Security
34 percent of American voters believe that the U.S. 2016 presidential election will be fixed. In a news conference in the beginning of August, President Obama stated firmly that the idea of a rigged election is "ridiculous," especially as cities and states are the entities responsible for setting up the voting system, not the federal government. But that doesn't matter−with heated rhetoric and fear mongering proving to be the bread and butter of one of the nominee's campaign strategies, paranoia and anxiety have already set in. Even though the setup of the polling stations is the responsibility of cities and states (each with their own network) that doesn't mean that a few of them can't be the successful target of an attack.

Hacking Endnotes
Since the DNC debacle it has been learned that the hackers responsible for the hack were state−sponsored actors from Russia. CNN reports that leading chief Democrats on Congress' intelligence committees have tried to impugn Russian intelligence agencies with working to sway the election. It' theorized that Russian intelligence officers are making a concerted effort to "unmask" Clinton as a morally corrupt career politician, leaving Trump to look like an affable outsider trying to make change. With the poll numbers showing Clinton in the lead, Trump has alluded that the only way he can lose is because of a "rigged system." With Russian state−sponsored actors seemingly trying to portray Trump in a positive light, there is fear that the same hacking group will try and boost his numbers come Election Day in an effort to balance the "rigged system."

Can Russian hackers infiltrate the system and change the election's course? It's not likely, and it's precisely because the polling stations are set up by city and state governments, making it increasingly more difficult to crack into the network and skew the results. All the same, the U.S. government has advised state governments to invest cybersecurity. As of October 1, 2016, only 21 of the 50 U.S. states have sought cybersecurity help to make sure their polling stations are not targeted. With the election just a little over a month away, it would serve the remaining 29 states well to make sure their electronic polling systems are secure. If information is stolen or an election lost because of negligence, who are the people going to protest? The state government.

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