The recent hacking of U.S. state election databases revealed grave concerns about the vulnerability of the system as a whole. More importantly, though, it showed evidence of the Federal Government’s tendency to take a reactive approach, as opposed to a proactive approach, to data security. Government officials are just as guilty as businesses when it comes to waiting until a breach incident to heighten urgency regarding their data security. The reality is that protecting private and sensitive information should always be a top concern.
Following the recent attack, the FBI issued an alert to all state election officials warning them of the recent incident, requesting an increase in the security of their systems. Officials were also asked to share any information they might have about penetrations from similar IP addresses to that of the hacker. It should not require the compromise of up to 200,000 personal voter records to reach this level of awareness and urgency with regards to data security. Data security needs to remain a top priority for the government. As proved time and time again by cybersecurity professionals, it isn’t a matter of “if” a data breach will occur, but “when” it will occur. Three days prior to the FBI’s data breach alert, reports did show that the Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, offered to help state election officials improve the security for states’ voting systems. Data security is an ongoing urgent issue, but despite Johnson’s recommendation, officials did not express a sense of urgency until they were notified of a data breach.
In addition to compromising voter privacy, this security breach raises serious concerns about the vulnerabilities of the entire election system and whether this year’s presidential election numbers could be hacked or not. The elections are conducted on a local level with 40 states using optical scanners that include a backup paper ballot, which makes a data breach much less likely. The big concern is for the other 10 states that use electronic voting systems which do not include a paper ballot, as well as the 33 states that allow internet voting for individuals overseas.
The last thing the country wants to see is a repeat of the chaos from the 2000 presidential elections. A vote recount would only reduce people’s trust in an election system already on the wire. With this year’s already eventful presidential election, voting results influenced by hackers should be a serious concern. Innovation in technology has brought new data protection and encryption solutions to the market to tackle the increasing amount of cyberthreats. The government needs to become more proactive with their data security and ensure that highly sensitive data, like the one relating to the presidential elections, is protected using the highest level of encryption on an ongoing basis.