With the 2020 presidential election approaching in November, COVID-19 is causing the process to look a bit different. Many aspects of this have been pushed online, which can result in some risks.
Dorothy Kennedy, Lubbock County Elections Office administrator, said there is a lot of disinformation online.
“It’s very hard for, you know, people to know which ones are legit and which ones aren’t,” Kennedy said. “Everybody needs to have a trusted source, which is their county office.”
Whatever county people are in, Kennedy said they need to pay attention the information they hear.
“They need to listen and read the stuff that comes out of the office of the county clerk or, in Lubbock County, the elections administrator’s office,” she said.
The website and the information the elections officer releases are trusted sources to use, Kennedy said.
“We’ve had several that have called just to say, ‘Hey, I’m just calling to check to make sure that what I got in the mail is legit,’” Kennedy said. “We are happy to answer those all day long, all night long if we have to.”
The office wants the trusted source for the citizens of Lubbock County to be them, Kennedy said.
“We are going to make sure that we are following all of the federal and state legislation, and that we are giving them, you know, the information they need to be able to make the choices they want make,” Kennedy said.
Sam Segran, chief information officer and vice president for information technology at Tech, said he is not comfortable with online ballots.
“I don’t think we have the ability to totally make it safe yet,” Segran said. “With as many cyber criminals as there are out there, I have some concerns about it.”
A professor and team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tested voting systems, Segran said.
“They were able to crack pretty much all of them in terms of how they were being set up and how they were being managed,” Segran said. “So, I still think we are a little bit ways off to get to a point where you can do online and be assured there are no identity issues, authentication issues and cyber protection issues.”
In addition, Segran said there are many people who still face phishing attempts.
“All of those become an issue during the online voting process,” Segran said. “There are ways to do things very securely, but those are done with very, very small groups of people and systems, and things are tested out where you can have encrypted communications with VPN and things like that.”
These precautions regularly are done when IT conducts sensitive data operations, Segran said.
“For mass public to participate, you cannot have that level of assurance, because now you’re working with the public environment with millions of computers,” Segran said.
Setting up that level of security for everybody is going to be a monumental proposition, Segran said.
“Even if you set it up, if that person falls as a victim to a phishing scheme, we can do everything we want to make the computers secure from point A to point B," Segran said. "But then, if the user themselves falls victim, then a hacker could be sitting on that system and the user doesn’t even know that."
The effect hackers and malware could have on the idea of online voting is hard to predict, Segran said.
“If you look at Russia or China or North Korea, they all have a large number of state-sponsored terroristic hackers who are on their payroll,” Segran said.
To tell whether or not campaign fund links are safe or not, Segran said a general guideline is to move one's cursor over the link to see what is being accessed.
“The link may be legitimate, but you need to be sure that the organization that you are intending to reach is an authentic organization,” Segran said. “The moment you alter it by one character, you could be going to some other website.”