Monday, August 4, 2014

Russian security fights off attacks on e-voting system

Just as there are countless advantages to e-voting technology, those opposed to it are quick to point out some of the problems or flaws of various electronic voting systems. One of the most common concerns, has to do with privacy and security.

However, if electoral commissions, government organizations and private suppliers take the appropriate precautions, it becomes highly unlikely that the ballots and the overall results of any election would be compromised due to outsiders “hacking” into the system and manipulating the results. Indeed, the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia serve as an example of how preparation can prevent and avert such attacks.

According to the Central Election Committee in Russia, some 1,800 hacking attempts were made on its website. All of these attacks were suitably repelled and the integrity of the elections were kept intact.

There may have been some concerns about an attack coming from within Moscow or some other part of Russia itself, but a greater concern was expressed by the Central Election Committee about hacking and manipulation coming from outside sources. As such, the CEC has made the formal decision that it will further bolster security on its website and throughout its network, particularly when it comes to the software that is used with the state automated electronic vote-counting system. There are risks, to be sure, and these must be addressed.

“We cannot afford to permit Russia's elections to be remotely controlled,” said CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov.

With the current system, the vote-counting system operates within the confines of a local network. However, the software requires access to the Internet in order to function and this can represent a security risk, even if the vote-counting system is not directly linked to other networks open to the general public. With error accumulation, the system could be “prone to remote control from outside the country.”

Russia has been using an IT system of vote counting for its elections since 1995 and this system has been fundamentally upgraded since that time. Today, it comprises over 3,000 IT facilities across Russia. Satellite and digital communication channels are readily utilized and officials work to keep these channels as secure as possible.

That being said, Russia is attempting to provide some level of transparency in an effort to aid the perceived integrity of its elections. For example, elections in Crimea and Sevastopol will be open to foreign monitoring. This does open Russia to the world in a way counter to the perception of a closed-off Kremlin.

While not commenting directly on the e-voting system being utilized in Russia itself, Dr. William J. Kelleher does note that electronic and online voting “can be both secure and confidential.” He also states that, “Without insider information, up-to-date professional security systems are nearly impossible to break into.”

The next major Election Day in Russia is scheduled for September 14.