Can the cloud be made secure enough for the US elections?

Can the cloud be made secure enough for the US elections?


Electing our nation’s leaders is the cornerstone of our democracy. Representation is so vital that women and minorities fought for suffrage, individuals would walk for miles just to get their vote in, and politicians would commit gerrymandering to skew representation.

And as America remains in the throes of the difficulties brought about by COVID-19 and racial unrest, in-person voting becomes an unattractive option for people who want to keep themselves and their families safe. But with mail-in voting being a contentious issue, can internet-based voting be even considered a viable option?

What is internet-based voting?
Also known as digital voting, internet-based voting is the delivery, marking, and return of electronic ballots. A few states, such as West Virginia and Delaware, have already permitted this mode of voting for overseas, military, and disabled voters.

In terms of cybersecurity, government agencies maintain that while sufficient controls can secure the delivery and marking of ballots, returning ballots electronically is vulnerable in three ways that make printing out and submitting ballots in person preferable.

What makes the electronic submission of ballots risky?

  • Voter privacy and ballot secrecy may be compromised.
    In both in-person and mail-in voting, the voter’s personal information is used to verify their identity before they are given a ballot. The ballot itself will not carry the voter’s name or other personally identifiable information. Online voting, on the other hand, requires that voters submit their names with their votes, which can expose who they are and how they voted.
  • Electronically enabled voting can also be disabled electronically.
    Denial-of-service attacks may overwhelm online voting systems so much as to prevent the systems from receiving and recording large numbers of votes.
  • Cybercriminals can alter large volumes of electronic ballots.
    Before submitted ballots are printed out, the digital forms can be tampered with so that the votes are altered.

Can the cloud be used to make the returning of ballots secure?

Unfortunately, the answer to this as of this writing is no. This is because:

  • An internet voting system must be able to withstand large-scale attacks against it.
    A cloud service provider (CSP) can only go so far as to secure an internet voting system from the end that distributes and collects ballots. CSPs can’t extend their security measures to the millions of voters who’ll be using their own devices to receive and return those ballots.
  • High-end encryption is necessary to make votes tamper-proof.

    Internet data doesn’t just travel from point A to point B — it jumps from one server to another in a pre-programmed path. This means that data can reach servers in countries that are hostile to America.

    One way to protect electronic ballots from tampering is encryption. But according to security experts, no entity has developed encryption that’s robust enough for internet voting in America. Currently, end-to-end encryption can be used for voting purposes, but the software only works on machines used for in-person voting.

Beyond cybersecurity concerns, another challenge facing internet-based voting is internet access. Rural communities with low internet penetration may be excluded from this mode of voting. This means that if technology does progress to the point that it enables widespread digital voting in the United States, the country must first narrow its digital divide.

Voting is such a large-scale endeavor in America, so much so that the country still cannot achieve internet voting the way a much smaller nation such as Estonia has been doing since 2005. For smaller-scale endeavors, however, CSPs and managed IT service providers such as Umbrella can be of service. To learn more about we can help your business meet its IT needs, schedule a consultation with us today.

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