Allison's Reflections

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Blog #0110: Russia and the 2016 US Election

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 2:45 pm on Friday, October 14, 2016

I remember sitting with my fellow interns on a sweltering July afternoon, finishing up our soft serve ice creams with the TV on in the background. We were silent, as we usually were on days when the dessert was particularly good. But then we heard a recently all-too-familiar voice declare:

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Needless to say, the rest of our lunch break was filled with exclamations of disbelief, wry laughter, and heated discussion. Admittedly, I’m not the most well-versed in politics. But from my peers’ reactions, I know I’m not the only person who did a double-take at Trump’s words. It was the first time that we had heard a political figure ask for a foreign power to breach our national security measures. (Here’s a video of the occurrence for anyone who feels like they haven’t heard Trump’s voice enough yet.)

Whether or not Trump was joking (which I really hope he was, as I do with most of what he says), his words emphasized the reality of Russia altering our political matters via the Internet to me. In one of the articles we read– “When Will We Be Able to Vote Online?” by David Pogue— online voting was argued to be infeasible with current security measures. But I think it’s important to recognize that even without online voting, there are still ways for other countries to influence the 2016 elections. If Facebook is able to manipulate a statistically significant number of voters (as shown in the article by Micah Sifry we read), then there are surely ways for Russia to change the outcome of our elections even if we are not using the Internet to directly vote.

So how exactly would foreign powers do this? I decided that a little Google searching would yield the answer. I ended up on an article from the Huffington Post. In it, the author, Michael Gregg, asserts that Russia or any other hackers could change our election results in the following ways:

  • Hacking a voting machine
  • Shutting down the voting system or election agencies
  • Deleting or altering election records
  • Hijacking a candidate’s website
  • Organizational doxing (publishing private information– essentially what Trump encouraged Russia to do with Clinton’s emails)
  • Targeting campaign donors

I’m sure there are other ways for our election results to be changed, too. I explored other essays written by Bruce Schneier, the author of one of the essays we were assigned this week. In many of them (such as this article published around the same time the aforementioned Trump incident happened), he argues that such hacks are a national threat to our democratic country. I agree with this, but what might be done to protect our election? What measures are already in place, and why aren’t they effective? Are there new measures being formulated now? But would extra security measures compromise individual privacy? How might this conflict of interest play out? This intersection of politics and technology is fascinating but also scary to me, so I’d love to discuss them in seminar soon. 🙂

1 Comment »


Comment by Mike Smith

October 26, 2016 @ 12:52 am

I wish we had all of the answers for you, but the next best thing is to see that you’re asking the right questions.

On the issue of changing the election results, there are two distinct failure modes: (1) A foreign power could change the election results in a noticeable way. Deleting the election records so that no tally could take place is one clear example of this. While disruptive, it is easy to recover. (2) A foreign power could change the election results and no one in the U.S. notices it. The latter case frightens me much more. How do different ways you list split among these two failure modes?

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