|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Political science Information systems Public administration|
Around the world, countries have for a long time struggled in defining what should be classified as critical infrastructure even as they continue to issue new policies and laws to secure these infrastructure (Shackelford et al., 2016). In the United States, critical infrastructure elicits images of a dramatic or sudden threat to national security (Shackelford et al., 2016). For instance, water sanitation systems when they are contaminated, they can cause illnesses and deaths before any concern is raised. Therefore, water sanitary systems are classified as critical infrastructure. The protection of the United States' critical infrastructure is vital to the quality of life expectancy for every American. The disruption of the nation's critical infrastructure would have devastating impacts due to the high level of connectedness at all levels of society. However, when most citizens provide examples of critical infrastructures, physical structures such as roadways, bridges, pipelines, dams, power plants and water systems are commonly listed. While these physical structures are worthy of protection, other systems, including virtual, may need increased attention although they are not included in this list. One of such systems is election infrastructure.
In 2017 June, Americans learned that Russian operatives targeted 39 state elections systems and election equipment vendor before the 2016 elections (Center for American Progress, 2017; Root et al., 2018). These Election Day disruptions, among other cyberintrusions in the electoral systems, exposed the outdated and vulnerable election infrastructure which in turn lowered Americans' confidence in the electoral process. One poll reported that for every 4 American voters, one would opt for not voting in the future to concerns over election cybersecurity (Shackelford et al., 2016). Although this is the case, to date, a consensus to classify election systems as critical infrastructure has not been reached partly due to a long history of both state and local control of voting procedures (Root et al., 2018). This paper reviews the current vulnerabilities in the US election infrastructure and classifies it as critical infrastructure.
The election infrastructures include storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of state and local governments.
Vulnerabilities in the Election Systems
In the United States Critical Infrastructure jurisdiction, election systems are not considered explicitly although these systems are vital resources to securing free, fair, credible democratic elections (Center for American Progress, 2017). Vulnerabilities in the electoral systems occur in five main areas: the lead up to the election (the informed received by voters); on the election day (rolls used to check voter); in the voting machines where ballots are cast; when tabulating to determine election winners and finally during the dissemination of the results.
Before an election, there are attempts to manipulate information reaching voters. For instance, one study established that between 1945 and 2000, the US and Russia combined efforts to influence information reaching voters before elections on 117 occasions using covert and overt methods (Shackelford et al., 2016). Although there have been attempts to prevent such incidents in the 21 century, the 2016 elections proved that the outdated tactic could still be adapted in the global age of digitization. As reported during the summer of 2-016 elections, hackers using the pseudonym "Guccifer 2.0" posted several articles obtained through cyberintrusions in many Democratic entities to influence the outcome of the polls (Shackelford et al., 2016). In some states, voter verification is primarily electronic, which creates room for manipulation by hackers. A hacker can make attempts to delete entries in the poll book before the election limiting voters whose details have been removed to check in on the election day, cause delay or undermine the trust in the electoral process. In 2016, more than twenty states were targeted by hackers (Root et al., 2018; Shackelford et al., 2016).
Voting machines have some vulnerabilities too. In the United States, there is no uniformly applied machine or standard across the many jurisdictions that hold elections. There are types of voting machines in the US; those that do not generate paper trail and those that create. Those that do not create have voters mark on the digital touchscreen ballot while for those general paper trail voters are instructed to mark on a paper ballot which is later presented for verification (Eric, 2016). Either way, security audits have found many weaknesses in the voting machines. Some machines using wireless internet connectivity have an insecure password and weak encryption. Some such as thumb drives are vulnerable to physical tampering, permitting hackers to install malicious code. Also, some voting machines run on out of date operating system such as Windows XP susceptible to hacking (Center for American Progress, 2017; Shackelford et al., 2016).
Another critical area is the tabulation systems which are used to aggregate election results. When manipulation occurs at this level, dissemination of results to the media and finally to the citizens are affected. Also, such results are questioned.
The Need for Classifying Elections Systems as Critical Infrastructure
From the vulnerabilities mentioned above, there is a need to improve election security by classifying it as a critical infrastructure. The hackers may not be interested in who wins, but as it is always the case, the losing camp believes that the election was stolen from them. One advantage of this classification is that it will enable the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in securing outdated voting machines. Also, Standards bodies such as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) could effectively direct their resources in creating a framework boosting election integrity (Shackelford et al., 2015; Wierzbicki & Pietrzak, 2017). Besides, the inclusion of voting in information sharing from existing Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) or Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs) would be made easy (41). Under CI designation, both federal, state, and local policymakers will be willing to allocate resources to secure or buy new election infrastructure (Shackelford et al., 2015).
Opponents of classifying election systems as critical infrastructure point at the cost involved (Center for American Progress, 2017). While this might be partly true, some of these costs are political. For instance, some states, such as Georgia, have already made their stance against federal involvement in election procedures of the state (Root et al., 2018). Also, there is a debate on the timing of CI designation. While many proponents argue that to reduce the costs it might require designating close to an election to reduce attempts of manipulation before an election, this might be a mistake. The designation should be early enough for test on the systems to be carried out.
When there is an election in the US, the election should be free and credible without foreign entanglements. There is a need to recognize election machinery as democratic tools which require maximum protection. To achieve this objective, it is essential to classify election systems as critical infrastructure.
Center for American Progress. (2017, September 11). Election Infrastructure: Vulnerabilities and Solutions. Retrieved from: https://cdn.americanprogress.org/content/uploads/2017/09/11132411/ElectionCybersecurityFactsheet.pdf
Eric, G. (2016, June 10). Online voting is a cybersecurity nightmare. Retrieved from: http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/online-votingcybersecurity-election-fraud-hacking/.
Root, D., Kennedy, L., Sozan, M., & Parshall, J. (2018). Election security in all 50 states: defending America's elections. Center for American Progress.
Shackelford, S. J., Proia, A. A., Martell, B., & Craig, A. N. (2015). Toward a global cybersecurity standard of care: Exploring the implications of the 2014 NIST cybersecurity framework on shaping reasonable national and international cybersecurity practices. Tex. Int' l LJ, 50, 305. Retrieved from: https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/tilj50§ion=14
Shackelford, S. J., Schneier, B., Sulmeyer, M., Boustead, A., Buchanan, B., Deckard, A. N. C., ... & Smith, J. M. (2016). Making democracy harder to hack: should elections be classified as 'critical infrastructure? Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 50, 629. Retrieved from: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2852461
Wierzbicki, A., & Pietrzak, K., (2007). Analyzing and improving the security of internet elections. In ISSE/SECURE 2007 Securing Electronic Business Processes, 93-101. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-8348-9418-2_10
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