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Black Hat USA 2020 Recap: Experts Discuss Election Security Questions, but Offer Few Answers

The U.S. election in November is once again expected to be a target of digital adversaries. Experts at Black Hat USA 2020 highlighted the many election security questions authorities must address.

Election security was a hot topic that was discussed by a number of presenters and delegates at Black Hat USA 2020.

Despite being a virtual event his year, that did not inhibit many enthusiastic discussions regarding the security around November’s U.S. elections.

Delegates and the general public agreed that they do not want a repeat of the 2016 U.S. elections, in which foreign actors allegedly sought to interfere. As a result of a U.S. Department of Justice special council investigation, a 2018 indictment accused 12 Russian GRU intelligence officials of posing as "a Guccifer 2.0 persona" in order hack into computers of the Democratic National Committee.

In a fascinating keynote address by Renée DiResta from Stanford University's Internet Observatory, it was noted the extent to which online disinformation had reached fever pitch. DiResta's examples included grifters pushing fake cures for COVID-19, nation states spinning pandemic conspiracies, and domestic ideologues coordinating to push manipulative videos about presidential candidates.

Meanwhile in a separate keynote addressing election security during a global pandemic, Matt Blaze from Georgetown University said that "technologists have long warned that much of the technology and infrastructure required for voting suffers from exploitable vulnerabilities that could be used to cast doubt on the integrity of elections."

Blaze went on to say that “in elections, it is important to not only trust the people, but also the technology that is being used. This is important for elections to be secure and have high integrity.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly added to the complexity of conducting the U.S. elections in November. There are likely to be a significant increase in the number of postal ballots that need to be issued. This represents systems and logistical problems. Key questions include:
• Is absentee voting scalable in an emergency?
• What is the throughput of your scanning capability? Who is auditing the scanners?
• How many voters who’s otherwise vote in person will need/demand mail-in ballots?

The necessity of ensuring the security and integrity of the November election will mean that the federal government and the appropriate state election authorities will need to prepare for a wide range of scenarios. And with just over two months to go until election day, time is running short.

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