CYBERSECURITY EXPERT: Yes, It’s Possible to HACK an Election–Is This Hillary’s Only Way to Win?

Is this the only way Hillary Clinton is going to win the White House?

To hack an election is something she has probably already done.

There have been suspicions in NY and I’m sure many more will arise.

By Richard Clarke

After reports of alleged Russian hacking into Democratic Party computer networks, some commentators have suggested that the Russians could hack the results of the U.S. elections. Other analysts have, well before this year’s campaign, suggested that election results in the U.S. could be electronically manipulated, including by our fellow Americans. So could an American election’s outcome be altered by a malicious actor on a computer keyboard?

I have had three jobs that, together, taught me at least one thing: If it’s a computer, it can be hacked. For Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, I served as the White House senior cybersecurity policy adviser. For President Barack Obama, I served on his five-person post–Edward Snowden investigative group on the National Security Agency, intelligence and technology. And for over a decade I have advised American corporations on cybersecurity.

Those experiences confirm my belief that if sophisticated hackers want to get into any computer or electronic device, even one that is not connected to the internet, they can do so.

The U.S., according to media reports, hacked in to the Iranian nuclear centrifuge control system even though the entire system was air-gapped from the internet. The Russians, according to authoritative accounts, hacked into the Pentagon’s SIPRNet, a secret-level system separate from the internet. North Koreans, computer forensics experts have told me, penetrated SWIFT, the international banking exchange system. Iranians allegedly wiped clean all software on over 30,000 devices in the Aramco oil company. The White House, the State Department and your local fast food joint have all been hacked. Need I go on?

Now consider that a majority of states use some kind of combination of electronic voting and a type of paper trail, but there is no standard nationwide. In most states the data that are used to determine who won an election are processed by networked, computerized devices. There are almost no locations that exclusively use paper ballots. Some states allow direct from home voting over the internet. Others employ electronic voting machines that produce no paper trail, therefore there is nothing to count or recount and no way to ensure that what a voter intended is what was recorded and transmitted.

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Some systems produce a paper ballot of record, but that paper is kept only for a recount; votes are recorded by a machine such as an optical scanner and then stored as electronic digits. The counting of the paper ballots of record — when there are such things — is exceedingly rare and is almost never done for verification in the absence of a recount demand.

The verification systems in place in most states can check only two things well. First, they can provide a basis for comparing the number of people who showed up and were allowed to vote at a location with the voter total reported at the end of the day by that precinct. Second, they can compare the total votes for a candidate reported by each precinct to the state capital against the number that the capital says it received from each location.

What they cannot verify without counting paper ballots (if they exist at all) is that your vote for Candidate A showed up in the electronic device tabulating the totals as a vote for Candidate A. The process of recording which person got your vote can — almost always — be hacked.

The ways to hack the election are straightforward and are only slight variants of computer system attacks that we see every day in the private sector and on government networks in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Malware can be implanted on voting machines. Almost none of these machines have any kind of malware detection software like those used at major corporations and government agencies. Even if they did, many of those cybersecurity tools are regularly defeated by today’s sophisticated hackers.

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