And in a troubling development, the attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like cameras and home routers that have been infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to flood a target with overwhelming traffic.
Security researchers have long warned that the increasing number of devices being hooked up to the internet, the so-called Internet of Things, would present an enormous security issue. And the assault on Friday, security researchers say, is only a glimpse of how those devices can be used for online attacks.
Suppose this is Russia or another foreign or domestic actor intent on disrupting our elections, and suppose the next attack presents a greater series of outages. Here’s the kind of stuff that could potentially be disrupted on Election Day:
- Emails, messages, and telephone calls (over VOIP, at least) to and from election officials and volunteers dealing with problems at polling places that inevitably pop up (ballot problems, polling place problems)
- Voters obtaining correct information on where and when to vote, and polling place problems
- Accurate journalistic reports of voting, vote totals, problems at the polls
- Law enforcement activities that may be necessary if there are acts of voter intimidation or other problems
- Lots of everyday other features of daily life, from electricity, to traffic control, to emergency services, and to the rest of what is connected to the internet grid
If there are significant problems with people being able to vote on Election Day, this could lead to court lawsuits to keep polls open late, or even to extend voting to a different day, potentially throwing the results of not just the presidential election but numerous elections into question.
Further, a wide internet outage on any day could create a situation for uncertainty and the spread of misinformation. This is especially dangerous on an election day where between the Trump’s campaign charges of rigging and Russian and other interference with our process.
Let’s hope our cyber defenses are good, and that people act rationally and calmly in the event there are problems.