Somewhere beneath a happy surface of cat photos, selfies and TikTok, danger lurks in the soft underbelly of our interconnected world.
Word emerged this week that the United States has inserted offensive malware into Russia’s power grid, possibly to deter a Russia-linked group called Xenotime that reportedly started laying the early groundwork for potential attacks on U.S. power companies.
Congress is concerned enough about cyberthreats that it passed legislation last year that allows “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace to “deter, safeguard or defend” against attacks.
Two of the areas most vulnerable to attack — not necessarily in terms of system weakness but in the sense of being a desirable target for foreign troublemakers — are the electric grid and our election system. With the grid, it’s up to the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command and utilities to try to keep the lights on.
With elections in 2020, much of the responsibility falls on companies that make voting equipment and the county clerks who run elections on the local level. Here, Buchanan County finds itself in a stronger position because of past resistance to paperless, electronic voting systems.
For other areas, there’s growing concern about election security heading into 2020. Stanford University issued a report that concluded the U.S. voting system is vulnerable to attack, with a lack of paper backups being one of the biggest concerns.
Even the chief executive of Election Systems & Software, the nation’s leading provider of election equipment, will no longer sell paperless voting machines if they’re used as the primary voting device in a certain jurisdiction. Tom Burt, the CEO, called on Congress to make paper backups mandatory and to submit machines to cybersecurity testing.
The magazine Technology Review calls this a “Damascene conversion,” but no such change of faith is necessary in Buchanan County, which still uses optical scanning technology. For years, voters in Buchanan County have colored in ovals on paper ballots on election day.
It might seem tedious, it might seem old-school, but that paper ballot gives an extra layer of security that’s becoming more of an issue for voting in the 21st century. County Clerk Mary Baack-Garvey said she feels confident about the security and the paper backups used for local elections.
“The majority of counties in Missouri use that,” she said. “They like the idea of having the backup paper ballot.”
In the case of a tight national election, it will only take compromised equipment in a few key counties to sow chaos. That’s a problem. But in Buchanan County, voters should feel heartened that our system makes that kind of problem less likely here.