Hi, I'm Ian Sherr from CNET and we are here to talk about election security everyone's favorite topic today.
With me I have Laura Hautala.
Hi, I'm Laura Hautala.
We're gonna, this is a pretty special topic I feel.
2016 really taught us that the way we thought the world worked really was different from how it really played out, and particularly it felt like the years of hacking have gotten so much more dramatic.
It feels like we went from starting with kind of okay, we had the Sony hack in 2014 and we had a couple of other things happen To now it just feels like it's in your face all of the time and it's changing everything.
Yeah I totally agree and I think especially with election hacking 2016 could just blew up what we thought election hacking ment, I think for a lot of people the concern is is my vote being changed on an electronic voting machine but election hacking is now Just like way more than that.
It's also things like influence campaigns on social media and hacking attacks against campaigns and government agencies that run elections too.
So there's just this huge explosion of what that term even means and what we have to think about now when it comes to election security.
The definition of hack has definitely changed and it's social hacking and it's all these types of things.
It's really amazing to see how it's just changed the dynamic of life around the country.
So let's talk about, we think about 2018 Facebook and Twitter and everyone keep talking about how much they're making progress right they we all learned how terrible it was during 2016 like our bad we're gonna make it better and so talking a little bit may be about what's been done to make sure 2018 isn't another 2016 Yeah, so social media companies like Facebook, like Twitter have been telling us a lot more about what's going on with their efforts to stop these campaigns, and just a backup a little bit, I mean these campaigns what they really are is a big group of User accounts, pages, things like that.
And bots, but they're all posing as US users of these services, but forensic analysis is showing they're not, they're based somewhere else.
And they're basically posing as US users who have divisive political poinions, and then they're Not only are they posting divisive content, but they're getting involved with real political activist groups who are on these social media platforms.
And they're planning events in real life that would not be on social media, they would be here, in the real world.
And I want to jump in.
Let's talk about a couple of examples of that.
We had the Bend a Knee or Stand for the Flag.
That was something that we've now learned Trolls, or election, Russian interference campaigns were involved in.
What were some of the other examples?
There was an event planned in New York that had involved a real activist group, several real activist groups but also had involved a group that was alegedly coming from Russia and they had just kind of insinuated themselves into, The organizing of that event and so Facebook eventually took down the page for the event and it was kind of a counter protest to the reunion or event that was sort of happening one year after the Charlottesville march that happened.
Yeah the Charlottesville two point march.
So that was the counter protest against that,
And the alleged Russian fake users had infiltrated that, and gotten involved in the planning of the event.
And so it's weird, because on some level, there are people who wanna kinda protest.
And if you look at the video The came out of that time in Washington D.C., and that second Charlottesville protest.
The thing that was clear was that there was a lot of counter protesters.
So when you think about it going on online, and the idea that Russian influence campaigns are trying to interfere with all that, It kind of makes you question what is real at this point, right.
Like if I can't trust that the people who are organizing and counter protest to Neo-Nazi's and white supremacist are real, but yet people show up.
What's going on?
And I think a lot of people would sit here and think, is that really terribly Bad if they're just joining this chorus of people who are already there.
Yeah, for the activist part, they said what they were doing was real.
It was very real, and they would have done it, whether or not those alledged fake accounts got involved or not.
But it does just kind of add this really wierd layer to what's going on when we have
No way of knowing for sure whether folks were getting involved in activism online are real, or actually just coming from another country trying to get involved in a sneaky way.
And they're exacerbating it all, which is the tough part.
There's an argument to be made.
And it's hard, because there's not a ton of data around this, that all of these debates have become much more extreme as a result of the goading of these interference campaigns.
Yeah, it is really hard to know how big that effect is, but if you look at their content, it is all super divisive.
There's not a lot of puppy dogs and kittens in there.
Yeah so, the worst of Thanksgiving dinner.
Yeah, happening all the time on Twitter, it's tough.
And none of us getting alcohol.
So what else is going on?
What are the other parts of this that is changing from 2016 to now?
Well there's actually less reports of like sustained hacking attacks against Campaigns.
I mean, it's not not happening.
There have been attempts.
For example, there was an attempt that Microsoft busted of hackers trying to steal the login credentials for the staff members of sitting senators who are up for reelection.
One of them was Claire McCaskill.
And they were reportedly unsuccessful But it does show that kind of stuff is still happening.
And in 2016 we had staffers from Hilary Clinton's campaign get hacked.
And one of those was Sean Padesta, the chair of the campaign.
And he had his emails everywhere after that.
And not only that, his emails were read into and spawned a number of conspiracy theories, including pizza gate, which
All of us sadly remember lead to someone actually going into a DC pizza establishment and firing off a gun believing that they were actually what is it a front for a child sex ring.
It's unbelievable what happens on the internet today.
So we have some failed email hacking attempts.
What's going on with the voting machines because people are going really, we're hearing about stuff in Texas and all that.
Is that hacking, is that Russian what's going on?
So voting machines, they're not super secure.
But the main thing that is keeping them safe is that most of the hacks The easier hacks require in person access to specific coding machines.
You have to somehow do these hacks without coworkers realizing and you have to hack the machines that are going to determine the vote.
And too so in a way that's not gonna get hot and look just super fishy.
Bottom line, it's actually pretty tough, even though it's feasible
Some of the problems that are cropping up now, are like, in Texas, is what the election officials are saying, is basically the machine glitching.
They're saying the users, the voters aren't being patient enough when they go through the process, if they select a straight party ticket
They have to wait for the ballot to page to load before they can press anymore buttons, otherwise it might flip the vote.
But I talk to a voter machine expert whose been studying cyber security and voting machines for ten years in Texas.
And he said you really have to engineer machines, so that
They can't accidentally flip votes just because the voter got a little impatient with the process.
But it just goes to show that that's a software flaw, it's not like a hacking flaw where a hacker could take over, but that's a just as big of a problem is it's gonna flip a vote just because a voter presses a button when they shouldn't have.
It reminds me in the tech world of that famous comments supposedly from Steve Jobs when antennae gate was going on with the iPhone, well, you're holding it wrong.
Which, [LAUGH] a lot of people didn't like that.
So what's going on then with concerns about any other type of hacking going on?
Are there influence campaigns that are being successful at all.
Is there anything else that we need to be aware of that's really kind of changing the dynamic of how technology and the voter going on.
Yes, the one of the other big issues that's emerging is campaign ads on social media platforms.
The social media companies like Facebook, like Twitter have changed their policies to try and make it more clear who's paying for the political ads you're seeing.
And that's kind of been a change from before where unlike print, radio and TV you had a harder time knowing why you were seeing an ad for a political issue and who paid for it.
And just to be clear, on television, radio
Print, you have to say paid for by and they have to say it, right?
And if it's from a campaign, it's like I am so and so and I approve this message.
Yeah, so we weren't getting that with social media and the companies change their policies to make that kind of thing happen.
And unfortunately it's appearing that those processes for seeing who paid for something are a little bit Too easy to game or you know or lie to basically.
There is a lot of this ads where, who is paying for isn't clear or isnt correct.
And so that's obviously a work in progress.
You know, creating that transparency if who's paying for the political ads that you're seeing and where they are coming from.
Yeah, and a lot of the criticism I think that's gonna level at Facebook particularly is that because they rely a lot on computers to do a lot of the work for them, and computer programs they supposedly are pretty smart and have been programmed to kind of sniff out bad behavior The reality is that they're just not nailing it correctly.
Which there's been criticism online about intelligent radio and print have had to do this and been able to do it for decades.
Why is Facebook having so much trouble?
So that's gonna be interesting to see how that falls out.
One other thing, why can't I vote by app?
We've been talking about
All the positive, sorry, all the negative parts of technology and how it's basically disrupting our democracy but there is that promise that technology can make life better and make communication better and how we all feel better about that so one of the ways that would be easiest is by voting by app so they don't have to worry about these machines not working and I can do my banking online why can't I vote?
Yeah, so apps run through a software that, while banks have invested millions and millions to find secure ways to use them, are still extremely difficult to secure.
And if you look at the machines that voting agencies are using now.
They're from the early 2000s.
That's the level that our technology is at right now.
Our technology in.
The public sector for allowing citizens to vote is not at the level of a smartphone.
It's not even at the level of a flip phone.
So we just aren't at a place yet where we have the technical ability to roll that out in a nationwide level And secure it.
Securing it is really the hardest part.
There are tests out there, like in West Virginia, they are trying to actually test out using an app to vote, but it's only with uniform service members overseas.
So, you know, they're testing it, it's pretty promising, but it seems like it's going to be a while before I can vote from my couch.
That is the dream, I think that would get more people to vote, at least.
Okay, and then there's also while we're doing what this terrible technology and everything in these voting machines that either have software bugs or the people are wrong or Steve Jobs is making fun of them, what is the counter answer right now?
There is This push in some states actually have a printed receipt because they're only electronic, right?
So there's five states still that have only electronic no paper voting machines at their polling places.
And there is a move away from that.
Virginia was one of those states, it was the sixth state and it just got paper based machines In time for the 2018 midterms but still five left, and two of them have, you know, the go ahead and the funding and there's, it's just a long process to replace those machines.
So, we're not going to have any more of them until 2020 at the earliest.
And the idea is just that you really need to have a paper record of Each ballot, not just for the voter to verify, that's important too, so they can catch any errors but also for later.
If the voters verify this paper record if you have any questions about what happened in the vote, you can go back and audit based on paper.
You're not having to rely on the software, and any glitches like what's happening in Texas or any actual hacking activity
That could of altered the software, altered the votes.
You don't have to rely on that software that can be manipulated to do your recount.
So it's just a way, I've heard it called a disaster recovery system to have these paper records.
And that's That sounds right.
But not until 2020.
So in 2020 we'll finally have hindsight.
So [LAUGH] and in.
That shouldn't be funny.
All right, and then, but in the meantime we're talking about, what is it?
Like tens of millions of dollars to replace these machines, right?
Yeah, South Carolina asked for $60 million from its legislature, the election division did, just to replace all of its machines with the kind that have paper, so these machines can average around $3,000 a pop, but you spread that around an entire state, it can really add up.
All right, well that's gonna be tough.
Well, it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
In the meantime we've got a ton of really interesting stories about all these dynamic issues on CNET.
So please come there and read all about it.
And in the meantime, I'm Ian Sherr.
And I'm Laura Hautala.
Thanks for listening.
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