Photo by Theresa Thompson on Flickr
Jeremy Epstein is a senior computer scientist with SRI International in Arlington, Va., where his research topics includes voting system security. Below he writes on this topic for Knight News Challenge: Elections, which asks the question, How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections? Winners will share in more than $3 million. Apply at newschallenge.org.
Elections are one of the last institutions where computing and the Internet have not made significant inroads for most people. While we bank online, shop online, and even pay our taxes online, some aspects of voting are decidedly offline.
This isn’t an accident; the requirements for privacy and anonymity in elections are fundamentally different than for any other aspect of our lives. And the stakes – our democracy – are among the highest, with a centuries-long history of people interfering with elections proving that the motivation is present to interfere with fair elections. The odds of rapid detection of a successful attack on an election are slim; the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other sources report that most attacks on corporations and government offices aren’t detected until months after they happen, even with the most sophisticated monitoring software and well-qualified staff. State and local elections offices have limited technology budgets, far smaller than banks and insurance companies that are regularly targeted by (and fall victim to) hackers and online thieves.