Assault On America

Even if this is only partially true we need to pay attention:

“We are creeping ever closer to actual evidence that there was Russian ratfcking of the vote totals in the last election. Not long ago, people wouldn’t even suggest that out loud. We were made vulnerable to something like this because of the interference by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, by the curious goings-on in Ohio in 2004, by a relentless campaign to convince the country of an imaginary epidemic of voter fraud, and by a decade of voter suppression by any means necessary. The Russians wanted to undermine the confidence Americans had in their elections? We made it pretty damn easy to do that.”

Perhaps we might approach the problem by classifying our voting system as a matter of infrastructure. Critical infrastructure.  Such as designation came only after the 2016 election. We might have saved ourselves some distress if we’d done this a bit sooner.

We’d not tolerate a foreign adversary attacking 39 dams, or 39 bridges, or 39 tunnels, or 39 points on our electrical grid — but there is now evidence that the Russians hacked into various points of our electoral system in 39 states:

“Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.”

One of the things that might have saved us is the decentralized voting systems in the 50 states.  While that might make us feel better, being honest requires acknowledging that there are only 50 states, not an overwhelming number for a small army of dedicated “patriotic Russians” who just happened to be interested in our elections.

There are several layers to this attack, all of which deserve far more attention than we are currently bestowing on the subject.

(1) Disinformation is part of the Kremlin Play Book.  The trolls, bots, propagandists, and other associates made their appearance known in 2016, [pdf Senator Whitehouse] and we ought not conclude that this is the full extent of the Russian interference in the last general election.  The Russians appear to be making use of the distrust of the media engendered, and perhaps inflamed, by right wing messaging that disparages mainstream media outlets.  This distrust can be easily weaponized on both ends of the political spectrum.

We’ve moved past the era in which disinformation was primarily disseminated via chain e-mails from Uncle Fred and friends, in an age of instantaneous social media there’s a greater need to provide news “consumers” with information not only about the veracity of the “news” but the origin as well.  There are some pieces of useful advice, for example “How to Recognize a Bot,” “How to Spot Social Media Bots,” and “The Fake Factor,” (identifying bogus Facebook accounts.)  Institutional responses are helpful, but we can amplify the response to attacks by being personally informed about how to spot the phonies.

(2) Adequately funding voting systems at the state level.  Inadequate funding breeds more problems — the lowest software bidder may not always be promoting the most secure product, the lowest bid for voting machines may not be the safest machines.  What states should be looking for is the BEST product, which may not always be the cheapest.   The funding should also include audits.  Voting officials should conduct regular, and thorough, audits of their systems — registration, data transfers, and compilations.  We should have Zero Tolerance for any attempts to manipulate any and  all voting data.

(3) Focus.  Too often the voting security discussion centers on cries of alarm about voter impersonation — an extremely rare event — and places too little emphasis on vote suppression and vote tampering.  Nothing serves the Russian purposes better than having us questioning our voter registration, data collection, and voting processes.  Tangential discussions which dismiss attention to these foreign threats as the function of unsatisfactory election results aren’t helpful.

Consider what is possible if a foreign adversary were to tap into the possibilities of the CrossCheck program.  What chaos could be caused by changing selected addresses, something as simple as altering a house or apartment number? Or, changing the middle initial of a registered voter? Or, changing a name from George to Jorge?  We need to attend to the problems arising from these kinds of manipulations.

Consider what might result from a direct hack into voter registration files.  Again, with the same kinds of alterations mentioned above.  We need to secure our voting data with the same attention we apply toward securing our physical infrastructure and national security apparatus.

Consider what might happen were a foreign power able to breach our vote tallying systems?  Unthinkable?  Probably not. In short, our voting infrastructure should be carefully audited at every single level.   At no point should we smugly assume that our decentralization and current systems make us impermeable to foreign assault.

Estote Semper Parati

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