To maintain democracy, digital election networks must be improved

Automation, segmentation and continuous oversight of voting systems will strengthen trust in government

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As the presidential election enters its home stretch, the Democratic National Convention cyber hack and issues with local voting machines have made cybersecurity part of the election story. After the election, I fully expect an accusation from the loser about electronic voter fraud, which will cast doubt on the most important element in any election: Trust.

Related: State elections targeted by hackers

Ed note_RedSeal_Ray RothrockBelief in the validity of our voting system is at the heart of democracy. Protecting the electronic voting infrastructure—from the voting booth to the final results—must be a high priority for the United States. And it can be done. With good planning and careful deployment, we can make our voting infrastructure very hard to hack.

We need to understand that we’re not just talking about individual machines, we’re talking about a digital network. Even if voting machines aren’t connected to a network while people are voting, the results will be assembled in an electronic database, rolled up across each state and reported out.

Every electronic network has vulnerabilities. Like anything built and used by people, errors are inevitable. It’s reasonable to anticipate issues and design contingencies across tabulation systems, however the connections between them introduces a new layer of complexity and opportunity for error. We need to make sure that our digital networks are resilient.

The first step in evaluating network risk and digital resilience is to determine all the paths a hacker could take into the network. Next, identify the most important assets in the system, understand if and how they could be reached, and block that access.

We have to do this knowing that networks are constantly changing. Even on Election Day. Network oversight and evaluation must be continuous, not a one-time effort. I can hear the conversation now, “Yep, we checked it two weeks ago. And, we are sure nothing has changed.” Really?

Good network design can go a long way to putting up barriers and slowing down the hackers. One recommended method is network segmentation. This is similar to building rooms, halls and doors within a building. A properly segmented digital network can have control points that allow or block traffic in and out of those “rooms.”

Much of this involves people, but we just don’t have enough skilled talent to meet all our security requirements. Our people need automation to constantly evaluate a complex, segmented network. An objective measurement to evaluate our readiness and focus limited time and human resources on the weakest links also will help.

It’s a complex job, however the heart of our democracy is dependent on its success. We must trust our elections so we can trust the resulting government.

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