Election security experts in the United States are warning that challenges to the nation’s voting infrastructure are more complex than ever before. Despite ballot fraud being incredibly rare in the U.S. a rise in foreign-borne misinformation campaigns and homegrown conspiracy theories have had a very real impact on how people feel about the integrity of the voting process.

With the 2022 U.S. midterm elections now in the books, it’s worth taking a moment to better understand some of these issues, and to also learn what we can do to ensure voters have greater confidence in elections.

Understanding threats to election security

Election security can mean many things to many people, particularly because the voting process involves more than just putting a mark against a candidate’s name. 

Some states use paper ballots, while others rely on voting machines. Many local election boards offer mail-in ballots by default, while in other parts of the country voters have to provide a satisfactory reason for not showing up in person.

With such a mix of voting standards it’s perhaps not surprising that, in the right political environment, election scrutiny can quickly morph into suspicion.

The risk of state-sponsored hacks

There have been countless stories over recent years of state-sponsored actors targeting Democrats and Republicans by hacking voting machines. And while there has been some evidence Russia targeted U.S. election systems in 2016, there are no indications that any ballots were changed. Still, that doesn’t mean the danger has gone away.

Cybersecurity specialists say overseas adversaries are constantly probing U.S. networks, searching for vulnerabilities to exploit. And while threats to future elections are not at zero, voters can take comfort knowing that, since 2018, the federal government has given $880 million to states to strengthen election security.

The threat of internal actors

In a polarized political climate, it’s not just foreign activities that have caused alarm; concerns have been raised about radical election officials engaging in nefarious activities. So how serious is the threat?

There have been a handful of instances where poll workers have tried to interfere with ballots, but in a nation where hundreds of millions of votes are cast, such occurrences are miniscule. Still, for voters in affected counties, the situation is very real – particularly if there is a risk their votes have not been properly counted. 

Fortunately for voters there are some fail-safes if they believe there has been an issue with their ballot. Many states can provide provisional ballots if an issue occurs on voting day, and some will also let voters check their paperwork after their vote has been cast. Of course, should a voter believe their vote has improperly been tampered with or otherwise overlooked, they may also challenge the issue via the court system.

Disinformation campaigns

Perhaps the most pervasive threat to election security is not at the ballot box, but instead in online communities.

Following the 2016 election, Facebook, Twitter, and many other social platforms began to actively seek out inauthentic accounts spreading misinformation on their platforms. The activity soon uncovered thousands of accounts engaged in such activities, many of which the U.S. Justice Department linked to the Russia-backed Internet Research Agency. To date, 13 Russian citizens have been indicted for election interference – but that is not the end of the story.

In the years since, malicious actors connected to Iran, North Korea, and other nations hostile to the U.S. have been cited by officials for stoking election misinformation. And when coupled with targeted data leaks, such tactics can be incredibly pernicious.

iThreat’s SignalAlert can help to protect your vote

iThreat SignalAlert monitors information across the internet, providing highly focused insight into emerging threats. Whether that’s disinformation about a political candidate or proprietary information about a voting system, SignalAlert is there to alert you of what is out in the world.

From social media platforms to the deep web, SignalAlert has been built to scour the internet 24/7. And with its powerful investigative capabilities you can take back control of your message before it’s too late.

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    About iThreat

    Founded in 1997, iThreat has assisted hundreds of clients with thousands of internet monitoring and investigations, including multiple successful multinational law enforcement operations.

    About iThreat