Steve Friess in a Playboy article “Technology Will Destroy Democracy Unless This Man Stops It” provides insight into the world of computer hacking and security – an ongoing competition between computer experts seeking to ensure security and those demonstrating that any such security is an illusion. As I have blogged elsewhere, the power of the hackers means that absolute security in a computer world is unattainable. See On the Death of Privacy.. It is also apparent that computer technology was adapted by Robert Mercer and the Alt-Right for the 2016 election to “weaponize” social media information to target potential voters for misinformation or voter suppression. See Compute This. But most startling to me in following this inquiry is the realization that the modern technology employed in state and national elections is directly vulnerable to hacking. A motivated hacker need not bother with the voters themselves because the results of the machines can be directly hacked and manipulated. I noted this possibility in Hacking Voting Machines and Computer Programmer.
Steve Friess has explored the dangers of voter hacking in depth with Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and computer expert, for the above-noted Playboy piece. Halderman has worked on all sides of the security issue, demonstrating how best to slow down the hackers of the NSA , how to work around government censorship, and, perhaps, most importantly, the vulnerability of state electioneering to direct manipulation. Halderman demonstrated that “hack proof” machines used in India were easily manipulated. He similarly weighed in on the vulnerability of a recent New Jersey election allowing voting by email. In 2006 he was part of the team showing how the Florida Diebold voting machines could be easily hacked. In 2010, he, with a team of grad students, manipulated the results in a Washington, D.C. trial internet election.
Read Friess for a fascinating tour of the brave new world of computer technology. Then work to ensure that our future elections are not vulnerable to malicious manipulation. And urge our election officials to engage computer experts to examine the results of the 2016 election for vote rigging by computer. Trump was insistent that the results were rigged. He’s been know to project a bit. Maybe we should listen to him.