How to prepare for Election Day Internet attacks
Take steps now so cyber attacks don’t disrupt your vote and viewing of results.
Chaos. Confusion. No way to reach sites with the info you want.
That could be your Election Day, if attackers decide to pull another big cyber attack, like they did on Friday, October 21—no Twitter, Reddit, Amazon and other sites some people depend on for communication and business.
Get ready now, experts say, to keep hackers from making your November 8 a nightmare—even more than it may already be.
“The best thing that people can do is have a plan for November 8th,” said David Byttow, engineer and CEO of Bold.
That could mean doing recon this weekend, so you don’t have to depend on the Internet on Tuesday.
“Set a time that you intend to vote, add a reminder on your phone, take screenshots of the directions to the polling location and keep your head down until your ballot is cast,” Byttow advised.
What could happen?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning that October 21-type Internet disruption attacks will happen again.
A DDoS or distributed detail of service attack prevented people from reaching big sites on the Internet like PayPal, Netflix, Twitter and more.
“The exploitation of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT) to conduct small-to-large scale attacks on the private industry will very likely continue due to the open availability of the malware source codes for targeting IoT devices and insufficient IoT device security,” the FBI said in a bulletin on October 26.
Election Day is the next likely target day for this kind of attack, according to cybersecurity intelligence company Flashpoint.
And U.S. officials are on alert for Election Day cyber attacks that could shut down the Internet and the power grid, reported NBC News.
A DDoS attack knocked almost an entire country—Liberia—off the Internet this week, according to ZDNet. Update at 3:00 pm Friday: A report from KrebsOnSecurity says there is doubt over how much of the country of Liberia was impacted by the attack.
Hack the vote?
The good news—it would be a big surprise if hackers could actually change your vote and/or national election results, experts say.
“I think it’s highly unlikely—less than one percent—that attackers will be able to impact the election on a national scale,” Byttow told Archer News. “Instead, they may attack smaller sites, such as DoS attacks against local state government sites or others like iwillvote.com.”
Waiting for results
That could make it hard for you to get election information before you vote, or elections results after you vote.
But many state election departments say they are prepared.
“Steps to secure databases have included implementing software, hardware, and firewalls to protect information,” said Meredith Beatrice with the Florida Department of State.
If parts of the Internet go down, will counties still be able to report results to the state, so you can follow the vote?
Yes, said Washington’s elections spokesperson, David Ammons.
“Our paper ballots have an audit trail, and tabulators are not connected to the Internet, He told Archer News. “We have made contingency plans for old-school alternative of faxes to communicate with counties and reporters.”
Ohio’s elections spokesperson agreed.
“One thing to note is that no election equipment nor the tabulation equipment is connected to the internet or a network,” said Joshua Eck with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office.
“Election results are transmitted to our office on Election Night through direct fiber lines, not over the Internet, so we are pretty confident that we will have election results to report regardless,“ he added.
North Carolina will also be able to gather statewide results without the Internet, according to Josh Lawson, general counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
“We do have backup systems in place,” he said. “There is presently more than one confirmation for results, so you may have both electronic submissions through secure portals, but also phone calls and things of that nature to confirm that the results that are displayed are in fact the correct results.”
In addition, some news organizations may send people to some county election headquarters to report results, like the Associated Press did after a network problem in 2014, Lawson said.
“They will literally deploy physical human beings that will get out to the county offices and phone them,” said Lawson.
Will you be able to see those results?
If you have trouble reaching sites on the Internet, you may have trouble finding those election results.
Someone may try to trick you into thinking the results you see are wrong, or that you can vote through Twitter instead of through traditional elections systems.
“I am certain that people—not necessarily hackers per se—will attempt to share misinformation online via social media in an attempt to dupe voters into thinking that the election is turning in a certain direction,” Byttow said.
“People should ALWAYS pay attention to and verify the authenticity of any links that they open,” he said.
A Twitter user fought with Twitter this week over fake election tweets. Eventually ,the tweets were removed.
“Confusion & misperception”
The Department of Homeland Security is watching for attackers trying to cause election “confusion and misperception,” reported NBC News.
“It’s possible that cyber attacks could create enough voter confusion to create delays at your polling place,” said Melissa Breach, executive director of the League of Women Voters in California.
“Voters should know that as long as they are in line when the polls close, they will be able to vote,” she said. “While these disruptions could make voting a little challenging, the polls will remain open and vote can be confident their ballots will be counted.”
With the threat of possible attacks, you will want to get ready for elections in the next three days.
What will you need if you don’t have the Internet on Election Day? It may take a little mental time travel.
“You’ve got to think pre ’95,” Lawson advised.
That means no instant access to your voting location, voting hours or a voting hotline number to help you if something goes wrong.
It’s a good idea to look them up now, an election official said.
You can take a screenshot of your polling location on the map, or download a part of Google Maps to use even if you don’t have a connection.
Google offers instructions on how to download a location for Maps to use offline.
The website Vote411.org will connect you with your state elections website, which should have your crucial voting information and other helpful tips.
You can also search for your state elections site directly.
And you may need to turn to the phone on Election Day. States have voter hotlines, and there are national call lines like 866-OUR-VOTE.
“The League of Women Voters of California encourages everyone, especially voters anxious about cyber disruptions, to prepare for the election in advance,” Breach said. “Find and save directions to your polling place and research your ballot early.”
Voters in California can go to Votersedge.org to learn more about their elections sites, hours and ballot contents, she said. New York and Illinois voters can use that site as well.
“Using the ‘My List’ feature, voters can save or print all their voting choices, giving them access to it even if the Internet isn’t cooperating on Tuesday,” Breach said.
If attackers wanted to wreak havoc on Election Day, they might try for these targets, Byttow explained:
Google. “We rely heavily on Google Search and Maps for directions to polling locations as well as services like News.”
Apple. “iPhone users rely heavily on Apple services like Maps and News.”
Twitter. “Millions of people use Twitter to get real-time information about what is going on with the election, this is important — especially to the GOP with Trump and his Twitter usage.”
Media/publishers. “CNN is a perfect example of this. If users can’t get to CNN.com, that could be pretty alarming and disrupting to the election.”
AT&T/Verizon. “Disrupting cell providers would be pretty bad because it could prevent access to all online services. The only respite from this is Wi-Fi—via Wi-Fi hotspot or at home. The chances of this are pretty slim though as well because they are historically pretty resilient to brute force attacks.”
Twitter and other popular sites may be a targets for Election Day cyber attacks, experts say.
Google is the “most valuable resource for Election Day,” according to Byttow, who is also a former Google staff engineer.
But he said, it would be tough for attackers to bring it down.
It is possible a bad guy would be looking for a security hole.
“Usually these holes are simply oversights or bugs caused by human error. They’re not necessarily malicious unless someone else discovers them and sells them to the highest bidder,” he said. “A seller in this election, could probably seek a hefty price tag, but the risk is astronomically high.”
A malicious hacker could find the hole, or an unscrupulous Google employee could find or build a hole. But, he said, Google would be able to track down the employee fairly easily.
“I don’t think any of these scenarios are likely, but given the amount riding on this election if something were to happen, it would be that day,” Byttow said.
All the more reason to be prepared for November 8 before the day arrives. Have a plan, a back-up plan, and some handy phone numbers in case an attack takes us back in time to the days before we relied on the Internet for our basic voting needs.
To find your state’s voter hotline:
North Carolina: 888-OUR-VOTE
National hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE
Check vote411.org for your state’s elections site.