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Security experts warn that hackers could disrupt the US presidential election

(Image credit: Image Credit: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock)

As the US gears up for today's presidential election, security experts are concerned that a cyber attack could be used as a means of disrupting the voting process.

The possibility of such an attack actually disrupting the election is quite low, though authorities are on high alert in the event that a cyber attack does take place. Security experts from the University of Michigan have warned that hackers may try to “discredit the electoral process in critical states” which could lead to the wrong candidate being elected if the race ends up being narrow enough.

Matt Bernhard and Professor J. Alex Halderman warned that this could be the case given the right circumstances, saying: “Unless the election is extraordinarily close, it is unlikely that an attack will result in the wrong candidate getting elected.”

Although a great deal of voting in the US is carried out electronically, the electronic booths in place remain disconnected from the internet which will make it quite difficult for hackers to gain access to them. A large-scale attack on the entire voting system would be nearly impossible, so it is likely that if an attack were to take place that it would target critical states that would offer either candidate a strategic advantage.

In preparation for the election, the US government has begun a 'cyber hygiene' campaign on voting systems across all 50 states and security officials will be ready to step in if any sign of foul play emerges.

One area that presents a possible weak point for hackers is the fact that some states have opted to use touch screen booths while others are employing direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs) at their polling centres. Bernard explained how DREs have been found to have vulnerabilities that could be utilised by potential hackers, saying: “Vulnerabilities in DREs have been thoroughly documented over the past decade, and it is well established that they carry an elevated risk of hacking. Most DREs do not produce a physical record of each vote, so they provide little opportunity to detect or correct computer-based fraud.”

The pair of security experts have also identified some states that will likely be targeted in the event of a hack due to their poor security and possibility to either be won by the Republicans or the Democrats. Bernhard and Halderman noted that: “Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado top the list of states to watch out for tomorrow. Together they account for just under 10 per cent of electoral votes.”

Though DREs have been identified as the most prone to being targeted by hackers, DDoS attacks, hacks on voter registration databases and even power surges could all be used to disrupt the US presidential election. 

Image Credit: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
Anthony Spadafora

After getting his start at ITProPortal and then working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches to how to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.