How Australia can help the US make democracy harder to hack

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
September 27, 2018

In the drumbeat of reports about Russian attempts to undermine U.S. democratic institutions with trollsTwitter bots and cyberattacks on congressional candidates, it is easy to forget that the problem of election security is not isolated to the United States, and extends far beyond safeguarding insecure voting machines.

Consider Australia, which has been grappling with repeated Chinese attempts to interfere with its political system. One 2018 report, for example, found that the Chinese have infiltrated “every layer of Australian Government, right down to local councils.” That’s why a group of academics and policymakers from Indiana University and the Australian National University recently met to discuss how we might make democracy harder to hack. We found that we had far more to work on together than we had anticipated.

Protecting a diverse, widespread system

In the wake of the 2016 U.S. elections, scholars, government officials and concerned citizens are debating how to mitigate the risk of foreign groups targeting the election machinery upon which democratic societies are built.

Vulnerabilities are widespread across the thousands of largely locally managed systems that together comprise U.S. election infrastructure. These vulnerabilities include voting machines that in some cases still have no paper trails and are often running “severely outdated operating systems like Windows XP,” which has not been patched since 2014.

But that is just a taste of the parade of horribles against which people must inoculate the election system. Other risks include hacked tabulation systems, which was a major concern in the 2017 Dutch elections, as well as compromised media outlets, as in Ukraine.

What’s been done so far?

Since 2016, the U.S. government has made progress in protecting democratic institutions. In January 2017, for example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reclassified electionsas critical infrastructure, which has helped to focus attention on the issue. Congress has also appropriated US$380 million to help speed the purchase of new, more secure voting machines.

Read the full piece at The Conversation