Cybersecurity is an important issue in the political discussion today, mainly because the vast majority of people around the world have, in some shape or form, a presence online. Now more than ever, individuals want to know that their personal information is secure online. In the past few years, a handful of significant events involving cybersecurity have reshaped the way individuals today think about cybersecurity altogether. Lawmakers in the U.S. on both sides of the aisle are currently pushing for legislation they say will promote cybersecurity initiatives, but usual political congestion is preventing any work of significance from getting completed. Democrats in particular have been very vocal about issues involving cybersecurity, and many in the party are hopeful that the reassumption of power in the House is going to provide avenues through which cybersecurity initiatives can pass.
Modern Cybersecurity Concerns
The word cybersecurity refers to the protection of systems connected to the internet, including, but not limited to, hardware, software, and data, from cyberattacks. When it comes to computing, security is thought of in two ways: cybersecurity and physical security. Enterprises have an interest in protecting both from unauthorized access, but data centers and other computerized systems are harder to protect. For this reason, many enterprises employ the use of information security, which is technology used to maintain confidence, integrity, and availability of data. Information security is a subset of cybersecurity.
Intelligence officials found that Russian actors orchestrated data thefts and hacking during the 2016 election, a finding President Donald Trump had questioned at first. In 2017, Dan Coats, once Director of National Intelligence for the Trump administration, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia’s cyber posture had become “aggressive” in recent years. Coats also told the senators that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 U.S. election-focused data thefts and disclosures.” Officials are certain that Russia engaged in propaganda dispersion and hacking during the 2016 election cycle, but still no evidence of any ballot tampering has been found. Election officials, however, are not concerned with the possibility of a foreign adversary, like Russia, altering ballots in the future, instead it’s the possibility that U.S. elections could lose their legitimacy which they are concerned about. “I do worry that we will never have another uncontested presidential election,” says Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, a Democrat. “The seed of doubt has been sown.” Ms. Merrill’s sentiments are shared by many lawmakers throughout the country, and such is why new efforts to prevent election tampering are being introduced.
Tampering with Voting Records
Officials are concerned that hackers may attempt to alter voting records to sow confusion about voting permissions. In order to vote in most states, individuals must have their name, home address, and party affiliation details on file, in a voter-registration database, before they can cast a ballot. These databases are rarely connected to the machines that count votes, but election officials are concerned that hackers may try to breach these databases in an effort to change the data inside: if hackers could alter voters’ registration status, such would surely cause a lot of confusion at polling places. A Senate Intelligence Committee report from 2017 concluded that Russian hackers successfully accessed voter-registration data in a number of states during the 2016 election cycle—evidence that any of this data was altered has still yet to be found. Russian officials have maintained a position of denial since the original allegations of interference broke, and President Vladimir Putin has called Russian use of fraudulent social media accounts to undermine the 2016 elections a fallacy.
Republicans vs Democrats on Cybersecurity
House Democrats targeted election security in their first bill of the new Congress, promising at least $120 for the purchasing of new voting machines. There is one stipulation however: the machines must use paper ballots instead of digital ones. The House majority has made pushing for strong election security a top priority, and many in the party are uninterested in compromising with the GOP-led Senate or Trump White House. Also, this new paper ballot mandate puts the House majority at odds with the Department of Homeland Security.
Republicans in the Senate are by and large for cybersecurity, but most do not want the federal government imposing strict requirements on states. “Paper ballots, that’s the biggest win in this bill,” said Matt Bernhard, who is an election security advocate with the Verified Voting group. “This is about as aggressive as you can see anyone at the federal level being in terms of actually passing meaningful legislation.” Democrat lawmakers have argued that paper ballots and other minimum security requirements for new grant money are a partnership attempt, not an imposition. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), speaking to the Washington Post, said: “This is not going to be at all the federal government coming down to tell states how to run their elections. Langevin is co-founder of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus and formerly Rhode Island’s top state election official.
The Trump administration has made bolstering cybersecurity a large part of its agenda, and such has got a positive response from Democrat and Republican lawmakers and the American people. During Mr. Trump’s first year in office, he signed a wide-ranging executive order which aimed to bolster U.S. cybersecurity, and this move effectively initiated modernization of the government’s aging information technology. White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bassert said at the time that the signing of the order was demonstrative of President Trump’s personal view of how the government should function: “ [President Trump] views the federal government as an enterprise, as opposed to just viewing each department and agency as its own enterprise.”
In the business community many are hopeful, especially as AI technologies—which many believe will be used to bolster cybersecurity in the future—continue to develop unimpeded. AI is now being used to sort through millions of malware files, and also for searching through common characteristics which could help identify future attacks. Recognition technology has also become a lot more advanced, which means voices, fingerprints, and typing styles are becoming more easy to detect and maintain.
- The Cyberthreats That Most Worry Election Officials – Wall Street Journal
- How AI Can Help Stop Cyberattacks – Wall Street Journal
- The Cybersecurity 202: House Democrats’ first bill aims big on election security – Washington Post
- Trump Signs Executive Order Aimed at Protecting U.S. Infrastructure, Homeland Security – Wall Street Journal
- Top Intel Officials Accept Findings of Russian Election Hacking – Wall Street Journal
- What is cybersecurity? -TechTarget SearchSecurity
- DNC Says Reported Hack Attempt Was a False Alarm – Wall Street Journal
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