Senators push legislation to protect election systems from hacks

Daniel Cooper

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have put forward a bill that would protect America's voting infrastructure from foreign interference. The Securing America's Voting Equipment Act, or SAVE, is the newest attempt by the US to prevent elections from being compromised by foreign powers.

The law is designed to push the Director of National Intelligence to share out pieces of classified information with election officials in every state. Those officials would then be tasked with strengthening each state's infrastructure and equipment against threats both foreign and domestic.

The legislation would also enable a hacking program and bug bounty that encouraged researchers and vendors to look for and close holes in critical software. Future elections would only be undertaken on devices that had been audited and passed fit for use according to certain criteria.

In addition, the bill would hand out grants to certain states to enable them to upgrade their hardware in an attempt to avoid future hacks. This would also be supported by the Department of Homeland Security which, in January of this year, marked election technology as "Critical Infrastructure."

The move is likely to anger the same swing states that violently pushed back against having their voting machines protected in this manner. Last summer, key battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Georgia rejected DHS' overtures to protect their machinery against hacking.

That decision was described as a push back against "vast federal overreach," by Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp. Others, like UNC professor Zeynep Tufekci, said that the state's equipment, which runs Windows 2000, was "more than a decade old" and "falling apart."

As it transpired, officials believe that election hardware in 39 states was breached by Russian hackers, including voting systems, campaign finance and voter databases. Subsequently, a server that was related to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was wiped, with Brian Kemp a named defendant.

A demonstration at this years DefCon revealed just how easy it is to breach a voting machine even for a novice hacker. If the SAFE act passes, and right now there's no guarantee that it will, officials are going to have a lot of work to do to ensure the integrity of American democracy.

Martin Heinrich

  • This article originally appeared on Engadget.