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The U.S. presidential election is just weeks away, and concerns have been raised about the security of election data. There have already been isolated incidents of voter registration databases being hacked in Illinois and Arizona.
Significant Vulnerabilities Present
According to the nonprofit group VerifiedVoting.org, which lobbies for voting systems, there are substantial vulnerabilities with voting machines used in the U.S., with many running on the Windows XP operating system, for which support was ended in early 2014. A spokesperson for the organization states that this makes them susceptible to malware and denial-of-service attacks that could leave voters unable to cast their votes. The state of Virginia has decertified huge numbers of voting machines due to the ease with which they can be hacked remotely by people with little expertise.
Even though there’s no evidence that any election has been tampered with through cybersecurity exploits, VerifiedVoting points out that the very fact that voting machines could be susceptible to rigging is a real problem in itself.
At present, just five states have a purely electronic voting system with no paper backup, and another 10 have mixed electronic and paper systems. In total, some three quarters of those eligible to vote in the election will do so on paper. VerifiedVoter states that the voting systems used in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which could be crucial to the election, do appear to be in good shape.
New Bills Introduced to Improve Election Data Security
To allay concerns, a proposal has been made in the form of the Election Integrity Act of 2016, which would bar the use of any purely electronic voting system that did not at least use paper records as a backup to ensure the integrity of election data. It would also prohibit any voting system from being connected to the internet to reduce potential vulnerabilities.
Another proposal that accompanies that bill is the Election Infrastructure and Security Promotion Act of 2016, which proposes to mandate that the Department of Homeland Security treat the electoral voting system as part of the critical infrastructure of the U.S. This would ensure that sufficient security controls are placed around election data to safeguard against cybersecurity and other threats. As part of this bill, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would perform studies related to the development of more innovative election technology that incorporates the required safeguards.
While these threats to the electoral system have been neither proven nor quantified, they’re considered to be real, and it’s vital that they’re taken seriously in order to ensure that the voting process is handled democratically.
The newest technology trends will have a strong impact on the 2016 election results by making it easier than ever to capture data and reach voters.