Midterm Election Interference

Polarized America Invites Midterm Election Interference

In Uncategorized by Jeff Pelliccio

On October 7th 2016 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly stated to the intelligence community that an attack occurred on March 19th, 2016 when an administrative assistant to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign manager clicked a link to a credential harvesting site in a spear-phishing message that impersonated Gmail; it was later found to be sent by Russian intelligence operatives (GRU). [1]

On Tuesday, November 6th the midterms election will be held where all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. If the Democrats win back the house and senate, it could impact Donald Trump’s second-half agenda. This represents an opportunity for foreign election interference through targeted attacks.

There are multiple ways that an attacker can influence or change the results of voter elections, for example;

Voter database exploitation
Fake news campaigns
Voter Machine Hacking

First, voters, personal information could become compromised through voter database exploitation. In most states, US voters must register with their name, address, and other types of personally identifiable information (PII) before casting ballots at the polls. In most instances, this is done via government internet sites. Because these sites are typically public facing, hackers could target them by denying availability to voter registration pages using Denial of Service (DoS) tools, setting up fake voting phishing sites in an attempt steal credentials and by performing more evasive attacks, such as Structured Query Language (SQL) injections to comprise back-end voter registration databases. SQL injection attacks are believed to have been the primary method used by Russian attackers to gain information of voters in Illinois during the 2016 elections. [2]

The compromise of personal information could lead attackers to create highly targeted disinformation campaigns using social media. Disinformation campaigns are said to have played a significant role in the 2016 US presidential election.

In extreme circumstances, an attacker could also influence the election through voter machine hacking. If an attacker has physical access to a voting machine they could tamper with voting machines to;

Block voters from casting votes
Produce incorrect vote counts
Reveal counts before they are verified or certified

Although the attack will depend on the type of access and capability of the attacker, poll workers, election officials, and even voters have the ability to bypass software and physical controls protecting voting machines. Additionally, there is also a threat of outsiders interfering with election equipment because these machines are connected to the internet (even for a brief period), and an attacker could conceivably introduce malware into a device or conduct network-based attacks. Lastly, vendor employees have access to hardware and source code of voting systems and could be in a well-placed position to introduce supply chain attacks.

US elections implement three types of voting systems, direct recording (DRE), optical scan, and paper ballots. DRE machines and optical machines are also used in conjunction with paper ballots to verify and certify results sent to central polling stations. DRE machines typically use some type of digital interface to cast votes while optical machines scan a paper ballot.

Recently these machines have come under federal scrutiny because the devices are old and riddled with multiple types of hardware and software vulnerabilities. In a yearly hacking event, testers at DEF-CON’s voting village were able to exploit a myriad of these devices within minutes of gaining physical access or remote access. [3]

Although we have provided just a small snapshot of the possibilities an attacker could take advantage of to interfere with US elections, we can still do our part by being part of the democratic process. If we vote, write and call senators and perform our own due diligence when reading news sources, registering online or interacting with voting systems we can make sure the risk of election interference is greatly reduced.

Hexcapes provides users with cybersecurity training with a variety of courses for the security beginner or professional. If you are interested in knowing ways you can protect yourself and others from election interference please do not hesitate to contact us through our website, phone or email.

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