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Learning 2016’s Lessons, Virginia Prepares Election Cyberdefenses

From left, Bill Wanlund of a Falls Church electoral board, Jessica Wilson of voting appurtenance association Hart InterCivic and David Bjerke, a Falls Church executive of elections exam a city’s new voting machines forward of this November’s election.

Pam Fessler/NPR


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Pam Fessler/NPR

From left, Bill Wanlund of a Falls Church electoral board, Jessica Wilson of voting appurtenance association Hart InterCivic and David Bjerke, a Falls Church executive of elections exam a city’s new voting machines forward of this November’s election.

Pam Fessler/NPR

This fall’s statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey are a initial large exam of confidence measures taken in response to final year’s attempts by Russia to happen with a nation’s voting system.

Virginia was among 21 states whose systems were targeted by Russian hackers final year for probable cyberattacks. While officials contend a hackers scanned a state’s open website and online voter registration complement for vulnerabilities and there’s no pointer they gained access, state authorities have been shoring adult a confidence of their choosing systems.

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One of a many extreme stairs was a preference by a Virginia Board of Elections progressing this month to sequence 22 counties and towns to adopt all new paper-backed voting machines before November. The house motionless that a paperless electronic apparatus they had been regulating was exposed to conflict and should be replaced.

“Got thrown a bend ball,” says David Bjerke, executive of choosing in Falls Church, a city in northern Virginia that was among those affected.

Within days, Falls Church systematic a new voting complement that combines paper ballots with visual indicate machines. The paper ballots are filled out by voters, scanned and afterwards stored in a sealed bin and can be counted after if a machine-scanned total is questioned.

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Bjerke says this should make electorate some-more assured that a choosing is secure, nonetheless he admits in his tiny city — that has usually 10,000 purebred votes — many people trust a hazard of a unfamiliar republic hacking their complement is flattering remote.

“Hey, we don’t have to worry about it. It’s not like they’re going to aim us,” he says many electorate think. But, he adds, “unfortunately, we’ve seen localities get targeted.”

He records a leaked National Security Agency news that Russian comprehension agencies sent antagonistic e-mails final year to some-more than 100 internal choosing offices as partial of a phishing attack. There’s no justification any of those offices were compromised.

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Then this summer, hackers during a gathering in Las Vegas simply pennyless into some of a paperless voting machines used in Virginia, that is one reason a state criminialized them so abruptly.

“In terms of cybersecurity, it’s something we worry about here any day and any night,” says Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s commissioner of elections.

Cortes says he isn’t disturbed so most about hackers changing votes as he is about someone causing difficulty during a polls by tampering with something like a voter registration lists.

To ready for such possibilities, Cortes and others in his bureau met in Richmond dual weeks ago with member of a state police, a state IT agency, county registrars, puncture managers and others to go over Election Day strait skeleton that prioritize creation certain electorate can continue casting ballots no matter what. In a past, such pre-election meetings have focused on intensity incidents like hurricanes and energy failures, though this year there’s a new clarity of urgency.

“We over a past year and a half in elections have seen a large change in a need for confidence around elections and a threats that are out there opposite choosing systems,” Cortes told a group, emphasizing a significance of pity puncture hit information and meaningful what everyone’s purpose will be in a eventuality of a disruption.

And that’s always a possibility. There’s no justification any votes were affected, though Russian hackers final year were means to benefit entrance to Illinois’ statewide voter registration database, and a username and cue of an choosing workman in Arizona.

This year, Virginia gave a internal registrars special cybersecurity training, on things such as how to detect a phishing conflict and to strengthen passwords.

The state is also operative some-more closely with sovereign authorities. Bob Kolasky, behaving emissary undersecretary for a National Protection and Programs Directorate during a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), says his organisation is now in weekly hit with choosing officials in Virginia and New Jersey.

“And as they ramp adult toward a election, we’re apparently looking to see if there’s any signs of anything that would means a need for increasing attention,” he says.

Kolasky says he hasn’t seen any such signs yet, though promises that if there are, a organisation will be some-more open to pity information than it was final year. States complained they were denied critical information about threats to their choosing systems, creation it some-more formidable for them to safeguard they were secure.

DHS is also in a routine of removing confidence clearances for a tip choosing central in any state so they’ll have entrance to personal comprehension about cybersecurity threats.

Election confidence watchdogs contend they’re encouraged, generally by Virginia’s preference to get absolved of a paperless machines. Still, Susan Greenhalgh, of a organisation called Verified Voting, says regulating paper ballots is usually a initial step, and that they need to be counted to detect tampering.

“We need to use them to review a choosing results. It’s like we can have a seatbelt in a automobile though unless we indeed tag in, that chair belt doesn’t give us any safety,” she says.

Virginia skeleton to start conducting such post-election audits, though not until after subsequent year’s election.

In a meantime, Falls Church officials have a some-more evident regard — informing electorate who are used to casting their ballots electronically that they’ll now have to use paper and pen.