DHS: Cybersecurity plays into online voting

With the November presidential election just months away, the debate over whether voting on the Internet can be safe from cyberattacks is heating up.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

As the 2012 presidential election revs up, 33 states now permit some form of Internet ballot casting. However, a senior cybersecurity adviser at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned today that online voting programs make the country's election process vulnerable to cyberattacks.

"It is premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time," DHS cybersecurity adviser Bruce McConnell said at a meeting of the Election Verification Network, which is a group that works to ensure every vote is counted. He explained that all voting systems are susceptible to attacks and bringing in Internet voting invites added risk.

Right now, 33 states allow completed ballots to be sent via the Web, typically through e-mail and efax. The main voting contingent that uses this cyber-feature are people in the military and those living overseas.

The debate about whether to march forward with online voting has become a center stage issue as the 2012 election season heats up. Some computer security experts say safe Internet ballot casting is years away, while others push for online voting so that all U.S. citizens are able to choose a candidate no matter where they are in the world.

One group, Common Cause, worries that individual ballots could easily be tampered if online voting is completely opened up.

"Election officials who run and pursue online voting programs must understand that they are putting voters' ballots at risk of being altered or deleted without anyone realizing it," Common Cause's Voting Integrity Project director Susannah Goodman said in a statement. "Because we vote by secret ballot there is no way to confirm that a digital ballot cast over the Internet is received as it was sent, making detection difficult if not impossible."

The focus on Internet voting comes at a time when the U.S. government is increasingly trying to strengthen its cybersecurity. Just last month, a group of senators introduced a bipartisan bill called the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which calls for DHS to look at risks and vulnerabilities of computer systems running at major infrastructure sites, including electric and water companies.