Online Polling Sites Are Extremely Vulnerable to Hacking – Here’s Why

From everyday individuals to major corporations and even the federal government, anyone is vulnerable to hacking in today’s threat-heavy digital environment. However, some organizations and systems tend to attract even more attention from hackers, with several concerning incidents having made headlines in the last few years.

It’s no secret that businesses are vulnerable, but, unfortunately, the same can be said for government elections. This propensity for breaches could spell big trouble as we look ahead to 2020.

Recent Headline-Making Hacks

One of the most concerning signs of trouble occurred at DEFCON, where an 11-year-old attendee successfully hacked into an imitation of the Florida state voting website in under ten minutes. This young hacker was easily able to change the results of the mimicked election. And he wasn’t alone; several other kids and teens in attendance managed to infiltrate a variety of imitation websites and systems.

The takeaway? Our elections are not nearly as secure as we once assumed. The National Association of Secretaries of State claims that the hacking stunt did not accurately convey current election security. However, real-life scenarios indicate that polling sites are just as vulnerable as DEFCON’s hacking efforts suggest.

Unfortunately, the effects of current election vulnerabilities have gone way beyond amateur hacks at national conventions. In May 2019, for example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis revealed that Russian hackers managed to obtain access to multiple voter databases in 2016. These sophisticated hackers sent emails containing malware to county employees. In turn, the hackers received access to seemingly off-limits voter registration information.

Some states have recently taken extra efforts to prevent situations such as Florida’s alarming 2016 hack. Pennsylvania election officials, for example, recently warned counties of the urgent need for security updates. Since then, the New York Post reported that nearly 60 percent have taken action. More than $14 million in primarily federal funds have been dedicated to the implementation of new and improved electoral systems. However, even this effort may not prove sufficient.

How Polling Sites Are Targeted by Hackers

Hackers may call on a variety of tactics to infiltrate elections. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, phishing emails are especially common. These fraudulent emails may appear to come from reputable sources, but they often trick otherwise savvy professionals into providing access to sensitive databases. Issues may also accompany unprotected USB or Ethernet ports, as evidenced by several hackers involved in the previously mentioned DEFCON effort.

How to Prevent Data Hacking

Polling hacks may be increasingly common, but they are by no means inevitable. With properly implemented security protocol, even the most devious hackers can be kept at bay. However, a proactive approach is essential. Key measures for reducing the risk of hacking include:

  • Upgrading to Windows 10 – Far too many individuals and businesses have stubbornly clung to Windows 7, even when doing so is clearly not in their best interest. This deep-seated reluctance to let go of the familiar is understandable, but it could ultimately lead to devastation. The good news? Windows 10 is not nearly as frightening as Windows 7 devotees believe. In addition to offering the functionality of Cortana and the return of the beloved start menu, it provides advanced security protocol designed to proactively address common threats. Meanwhile, technical support for Windows 7 is set to end soon, leaving polling sites that fail to upgrade that much more vulnerable.
  • Making the Most of Windows 10 Security Features – A simple upgrade to Windows 10 will go a long way towards improving data security, but that alone may not prove sufficient. It’s time to go beyond merely tolerating Windows 10 – instead, make a conscious effort to embrace its security features. Top options include the Windows Defender Smart Screen, User Account Control, Application Guard, and Defender Device Guard. The more layers of data protection, the better.
  • Setting Aside Time for Regular Audits – Despite implementing extensive security programs and protocol, many organizations remain highly vulnerable in ways they cannot possibly know until they are targeted. Audits provide a closer look at lingering risks, thereby ensuring that every loophole is closed long before it can be manipulated.
  • Pursuing Thorough and Regular Training for All Employees – Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate fears that overlooked public employees may be the most likely to give up sensitive information to hackers. Thus, education may prove one of the most valuable forms of prevention. Employees should be made aware of the many risks that accompany everyday tasks such as answering emails. They should also understand what’s at stake – our elections and the very fiber of our democracy.

Hacking incidents may be on the rise, but they aren’t inevitable. Operating system upgrades, audits, and employee education can all go a long way towards keeping our elections secure. Likewise, these efforts can prove valuable among businesses and organizations of all sizes and in every sector. A proactive approach can make all the difference in this age of security threats.

Prevent Database Hacking with Help from a Trusted IT Company

Whether you’re involved in local elections or are simply eager to ramp up security for your small business, you can benefit from the services of a trusted company. NerdsToGo is a top option – we implement the advanced IT infrastructure needed to reduce risks across several organizations. We also provide data backup services to ensure that, in a worst-case scenario situation, sensitive data can be retrieved. Reach out today to learn which protocol our cybersecurity company in Portland can help you implement – and to discover how we can assist with disaster response. You will never regret having a highly respected team of experts in your corner.