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The Japan Times

Hacking the U.S. election: questions and answers

Oct 8, 2016

WASHINGTON – The U.S. government’s accusation that Russian government-directed hacking aimed to disrupt the November election comes amid fears about the security of the voting process.

The attacks have included breaches of emails of political organizations, blamed on Russia, as well as probes of state voter databases, for which U.S. officials have said they cannot determine the source.

Here are some questions and answers:

Can hackers affect the November election results?

This is unlikely, voting experts say. There is no single, centralized hub to be hacked, ...


Voting machines undergo frequent tests and are not connected to the internet, Becker said, adding that 75 percent of votes are either on a paper ballot or with a paper backup. ...

So the election is secure?

It remains to be seen. A study last year by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that “outdated voting equipment across the country presents serious security and reliability challenges.”


Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University who studies voting systems, told lawmakers the biggest vulnerability is voter registration databases.


Even if voting machines are not connected to the internet, he said, they “still interact with normal computers as part of their initialization phase,” loading software and ballot definitions, “and the tabulation phase,” extracting votes and computing the totals.

This can allow hackers to attack even “air-gapped” machines that are not online, Wallach said.

What about online voting?

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of internet voting, involving email, fax or online portal, mainly for overseas and military voters, ...

But many computer experts contend these ballots may not be secure, with a potential for being altered, and with secrecy not guaranteed.


Internet voting is widely used in Estonia and has been tested elsewhere. But a group of computer experts in 2014 urged Estonia and other countries to discontinue the practice ...

What other disruptions are possible?

Instead of targeting voting machines, hackers or other activists could take a different approach: disinformation through social media or emails to create confusion in the final days of the campaign.

“A dump of carefully crafted fictional emails to WikiLeaks could do this, without ever actually attacking any machine,” said University of Iowa computer scientist Douglas Jones. “Creating havoc is far easier than systematically corrupting the results.”

What is motivating the attacks?

Russia’s involvement is not a surprise, according to James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Russians “see themselves in a new conflict where control of information is a tool or even a weapon,” he said.