Technology brings with it a number of conveniences, but it also opens up opportunities for scammers and hackers to take advantage of people through tech fraud. That crime involves using technology in a variety of possible ways to mislead people, steal data, shut down systems and more.
Increasingly over the past several years, tech fraud has influenced voter fraud, which also manifests in many ways. People may use fake information at the polls, try to vote more than once or otherwise wrongfully attempt to swing votes in a certain direction.
Unfortunately, e-voting could facilitate both tech fraud and election fraud if the platforms aren’t sufficiently locked down. Here are five of the potential risks:
Meddling From Foreign Nations Happens
The issue of foreign nations influencing elections became a topic of dinner-table discussions due to allegations associated with Russia and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. However, the practice is not new, and experts say it’s been happening for decades. The difference now is that technology arguably makes it easier than in the past to wreak havoc.
Voting Machines Are Riddled With Cybersecurity Flaws
Election materials often mention that “every vote counts,” and there was a time when people could feel they were truly making a difference in politics by going to the polls. But reports of insecure voting machines worry users that their votes may not get counted.
A recent hacking conference featured a “Voting Village” where people were encouraged to try to break into voting machines to find flaws. A 50-page report about the cybersecurity weaknesses found that in one case, a machine used in nearly half of U.S. states still had a vulnerability reported over a decade ago.
Malware Risks Exist
Only five U.S. states have e-voting without a verifiable paper backup system. Georgia is one, and despite concerns from people in the state, a judge recently decided not to modernize the state’s methods. Critics say without using paper records along with e-ballots, it’s impossible to do a recount with paper materials.
Plus, hackers could contaminate the system with malware. If such a scenario happens, the records of an entire voting machine might get erased with no trace of the offending malware.
Then, hackers would not have to manipulate the data to change votes and could just wipe out the information instead. And it’s easier than you may think to gain access to a remote machine.
Research not related to voting machines found wireless computer accessories could become access points for hackers and let them input keystrokes viewable on a compromised system’s screen.
Voter Registration Data Gets Manipulated
Many of today’s voters don’t just cast e-votes. They also prepare for having the privilege to vote by registering by a deadline and waiting to receive further instructions. Allegations in several states claim hackers have already successfully broken into voter registration databases. The resultant chaos of future incidents depends on hackers’ actions.
For example, ZIP codes are familiar, location-related elements. Postal carriers use them to find individual addresses or sales managers may divide customer territories by them. More importantly, you probably enter your ZIP code to find your polling place before Election Day.
If hackers change the ZIP codes eligible voters entered when registering, those people who are ready to vote could show up at the wrong locations and potentially get so discouraged that they give up and don’t vote. Additionally, cybercriminals may delete people entirely, meaning that poll workers can’t grant those individuals the right to vote.
Obsolete Voting Machines Are At Risk of Breaking Down
Statistics say most of the voting equipment used in the United States is more than a decade old and the software on the machines used to tally votes is just as ancient. Besides the cybersecurity risk already mentioned, people should be concerned that the technology that lets them participate in e-voting may fail.
How Could E-Voting Become More Reliable?
The information above emphasizes why people who are anxious about using e-machines to participate in the political process have valid reasons to feel that way. But on a positive note, there are things to do that could improve the security and reliability of electronic voting equipment.
Some analysts say blockchain, the digital ledger system typically associated with cryptocurrencies, could be a useful alternative to current methods. Entries on the blockchain can’t be changed once confirmed.
A company called Voatz, which provides technology for voting via smartphone, stores votes on the blockchain and uses biometric security, but some people are still unsure of security.
Other ways to improve how people vote include returning solely to paper ballot systems and crosschecking voter registration databases to eliminate duplication and allowing people to vote by mail, as some states already permit.
Additionally, there is an argument for standardizing the technologies people use to vote instead of jurisdictions utilizing a variety of different kinds. Then, if a flaw were discovered, it would theoretically be easier to patch the problem or even become aware of it at all compared to the difficulties caused by using many hardware and software brands.
Periodic audits could help, too. And to bring technology into the equation in that respect, what if auditors learned which processes to follow by enrolling in an e-learning course first?
Technology Could Either Help or Harm
Many experts have weighed in and warned that people are facing the threat of election fraud with the upcoming mid-terms in the U.S. It’s evident that e-voting is not as straightforward or secure as many supporters hoped it would be. E-voting also opened up opportunities for hackers to seize sensitive information that could influence outcomes.
But technology could also make voting safer, provided the officials involved in it show a willingness to invest in better, newer options. Two consistent realities about cybercriminals are that they look for weak points and love notoriety. Election machines are knowingly insecure, and hacking them undoubtedly brings attention to the perpetrators.