The coronavirus pandemic has forced people around the globe to temporarily modify the ways they go about activities. Activities like these include political elections and campaigning.
Since the virus hit in an election year, it’s highly likely new measures will be taken to prevent mass gatherings during voting. Infection rates aren’t likely to drop any time soon, and even if they did, queues for voting could lead to huge bursts of cases everywhere. At least 15 states in the US postponed presidential election primaries.
Suggestions have been made by election administrators to utilize an analog method of voting known as mail voting. It involves the mailing in of ballots by voters. If this technique is used, it would be highly likely that the results of the election would be decided in weeks or months.
Because of the pandemic, new voter registrations have dropped tremendously, with a 70% decrease experienced in twelve states. This year’s election was expected to break previous voting turnout records. However, with lockdowns still in place, voting participation will seemingly be reduced.
There have also been calls for online voting in some states like New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia. Currently, election administrators are holding discussions on the best method to use that would combine voting efficiency, safe health practices, and a speedy turnout of results.
Omnibox – Security Vulnerabilities
The most viable method which has been touted by speculators is the use of Omnibox – an online-based voting and ballot system primarily for the disabled, military and overseas voters. This system has however come under scrutiny from several quarters regarding its credibility.
In a paper released by Michael Specter and J. Alex Halderman, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Michigan, they highlighted several security vulnerabilities inherent in the system and labelled it insecure on so many levels. Their study was based on three main branches of the system namely:
- Online Ballot Return: One of these issues stemmed from the fact that the system was reliant on several third-party services which could deliver altered results, robbing the system of its independence and reliability. The risks associated with online ballot return are considered grave and can be influenced by malware and database compromise.
- Blank Ballot Delivery: Although considered a moderate risk since rigorous electoral screening can check this, blank ballot delivery is still regarded as a risk. The system runs the risk of having voters’ ballots returned as blank or some candidates omitted from the ballot box.
- Online Ballot Marking Manipulation: Here, attackers discover the voters’ choices and then either alter them or get their votes scanned in a different candidate’s box. This is tagged as high-risk vulnerability and ultimately, one of the reasons why this system is not recommended for use.
Mitigating Online Risks when “going to the polls”
Despite these vulnerabilities which seem like they should be handled by the government – which ordinarily should be, below are ways by which voters themselves can protect their votes from alteration.
- Use Encryption Software: Encryption software helps add an extra layer of security to the data being sent over the Internet. Many times, public WiFis which we all make use of, have malicious elements waiting somewhere on the network to steal user data. To mitigate against this risk, download and use a VPN app when connecting to an unsure network in order to prevent data theft or alteration.
- Educate Yourself: The government often releases guidelines on best practices to apply when making use of the online voting system. Engage in voter education and also educate people around you. For example, make sure you enter the official voting website, instead of any unapproved system that was established to mislead voters.
- Use Antivirus Software: Viruses and malwares are one of the many ways by which cyber criminals also perpetuate their acts when it comes to online voting. Getting one of the best antivirus software on the Internet can help detect, scan and remove any suspicious or corrupted program that might be existing on the system.