Heard on MichMash

Cybersecurity Experts Cautiously Optimistic About Michigan Election Security

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Image credit: Shiraz Ahmed / WDET

On MichMash, Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth explore the biggest threats to Michigan’s elections systems and what the state is doing to prevent attacks.

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Michigan election officials are working hard to prevent a cyber attack ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The concern over potential cyber attacks on our election system has been building for years. Hackers and disinformation campaigns have gotten more and more sophisticated, and technology is more advanced than ever.

Then in March, the world was hit with the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, that has resulted in uncharted waters in terms of the ways people are voting, which creates a lot of uncertainty.


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As a swing state, Michigan could be a very attractive target for cyber threats during the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Michigan has done a lot to prepare for this. That includes working closely with federal agencies to coordinate efforts to combat attacks.

Benson noted recently on WDET’s Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson, that in addition to security protocols and training for election workers, Michigan also benefits from having a decentralized election system.

The good thing about Michigan is that we have 1,520 different township and city jurisdictions where elections are managed at the local level,” Benson said. “So there’s also limited impact compared to other states that have a more centralized system.”

Some security experts point out that a decentralized election system is a double-edged sword, however. It’s also harder to make sure all election workers on the ground level understand the risks of threats and how to avoid them as well.

As far as tabulating votes, I think we’re in really good shape.” - Andrew Dold, lead security analyst for Wayne State University and a member of the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps (MiC3).

By and large, cybersecurity experts are cautiously optimistic about what the state has done to keep the election secure. They say the state has done a lot to prepare for threats, including an emphasis on paper ballots.

Michigan is also going to be one of just eight states expected to do a risk-limiting audit (RLA) after the election to catch any major discrepancy between paper ballots and the machine counted tallies. Cybersecurity experts have been pushing states to do this for years because they say this audit could suggest whether there was widespread tampering with votes or voter fraud.

While voter fraud has been proven time and again to be very rare, this kind of audit is one way to make sure that cyber attacks don’t move into that territory.

There isn’t a high likelihood of voter infrastructure being attacked, said Andrew Dold, lead security analyst for Wayne State University and member of the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps (MiC3). But one area the does have cybersecurity experts concerned is voter misinformation. As we saw in the 2016 election, social media is riddled with falsehoods, bots and organizations trying to influence American voters and their votes.

Websites spread misinformation that could incite people,” Dold said.

People kind of believe what they want to believe. All they need is a close reason nowadays, right? So, that’s the kind of thing that worries me more. The erosion of public trust with the government or the results. But I think as far as tabulating votes, I think we’re in really good shape.”

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Each week, WDET's Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio's Cheyna Roth un-jumble Michigan issues and talk about how statewide news stories affect you. 

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