Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos recalled last week a message his office received about a credible threat to the technological infrastructure. A foreign state had just tried to hack into a part of the state website.
That seems alarming, right? More like pretty typical.
Condos said Vermont gets attacked hundreds of thousands of times a day, millions and millions of attempts by hackers and artificial intelligence to gain access to the system.
There’s a reason this isn’t a much bigger story; those attacks just don’t land.
That was the theme of Condos’ talk at the Stowe town hall last Thursday, part of the secretary’s regular “Transparency Tour” around the state.
Condos said Vermont’s strategy in keeping elections safe from outside influence is fourfold.
• Protect the state with an election management system implemented in 2015 and things like two-factor authentification and firewalls in front of all the “doors” into the system, as well as human training.
• Detect threats through constant monitoring, vulnerability and risk assessments, weekly “cyber hygiene” scans and annual “penetration testing” for those myriad attempts at gaining access.
• Respond to the threats, coordinating with regional branches of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and Secret Service.
• Recover anything that hasn’t been tainted. That includes, as Condos put it, “the ultimate non-hackable, non-technological thing, the paper ballot.”
The attempts by countries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea to influence elections turn into a dangerous game when American voters start to believe that the game is rigged, Condos said. He said the biggest concern among voting officials is misinformation on social media.
“They want to buy us,” he said. “They basically want people to think our election system is rigged.”
He said a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice titled “The Myth of Voter Fraud” cited a Washington Post story that found only 31 instances of fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast in elections between 2000 and 2014.
The real voter fraud, according to Condos?
“It’s the denial of someone to vote,” he said. “It’s tough enough to get a person to vote once, not to mention twice.”