Dr. Harri Hursti addresses the potential for Russian election attacks

Dr. Harri Hursti is a respected international expert on electronic security, especially electronic voting.  CTVotersCount readers may recall his role in the film Hacking Democracy demonstrating the “Hursti Hack” of Connecticut’s voting machines, the AccuVote-OS scanners.

In a recent interview he addressed  the risks and chances of correctly attributing the source of attacks, specifically focusing on Russia <read>

What do you think of the news that a member of Congress says there is “no doubt” that Russia is behind recent attacks on state election systems

The article makes several dangerous assumptions about the security of elections and election systems. Representative Adam Schiff said he doubted (Russians) could falsify a vote tally in a way that effects the election outcome. He also said outdated election systems makes this unlikely, but really, it just makes it easier. The voting machines were designed at a time when security wasn’t considered, included, or part of the specifications at all.

These outdated computers are extremely slow. They don’t have the extra horsepower to do decent security on top of the job they were designed for…

So there’s no proof of voter registration tampering?

As in voting machines, the registration machine don’t have the capability of logging an alteration, and they are trivially altered themselves. It’s meaningless to claim there’s no evidence, since the systems don’t have the capability to report when they’re altered…

How can the US be so sure it’s Russia?

It can’t. It is very hard to find from where a network attack is coming from. It is equally easy to make certain that investigators will find “the trail” which is pointing to the wrong direction. Therefore under the assumption that you’re dealing with a skillful attacker, any trail found is a red flag for the fact there are so many ways to make it virtually impossible to find the trail. Any conclusive looking trail “found” should be considered suspect. Unless it’s a false trail, you can only say we suspect them, and until you get to the real people to the level of the actual perpetrators true identities, you can’t make a conclusion as to “where” they come from…

Given your Cold War background, does this feel familiar?

The Cold War was all about ideology, and therefore a large concept was something that we today call hybrid warfare. In that game the actual technological attacks are equally important as the psychological influencing of the general population with misinformation and misdirection. So this is all very familiar.

Also, something we in the Western world don’t understand is how deeply patriotic Russians are. Individual Russians, and self-organized groups, are willing to go to great lengths on their own, with their own initiative, if they believe that what they do will benefit Mother Russia, and/or in hope and believe that their actions once known will be rewarded.

Given your Cold War background, does this feel familiar?

The Cold War was all about ideology, and therefore a large concept was something that we today call hybrid warfare. In that game the actual technological attacks are equally important as the psychological influencing of the general population with misinformation and misdirection. So this is all very familiar.

Also, something we in the Western world don’t understand is how deeply patriotic Russians are. Individual Russians, and self-organized groups, are willing to go to great lengths on their own, with their own initiative, if they believe that what they do will benefit Mother Russia, and/or in hope and believe that their actions once known will be rewarded…

I would suggest reading the complete article.  Dr. Hursti provide ans international prospective we do not fully comprehend.

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