Voter fraud and registration manipulation have been hot topics of concern on both sides of the aisle. But what happens when hackers use your identity to change your voting information?
A new Harvard study has examined how hackers can access personal voter information, which can be bought online through both traditional resources the dark web.
The researchers found that for a few thousand dollars, hackers could obtain enough data to change information where voters can register online, impersonate voters online, and target key demographics that would make voting difficult for certain people, districts, or communities.
For example, a hacker armed with enough data could potentially change the addresses of a number of voters who, upon going to the polls to vote, would be told that he or she was in the wrong location, or that they would have to fill out a different ballot.
The study was conducted by Latanya Sweeney, Harvard professor of Government and Technology in Residence, in collaboration with research analyst Ji Su Yoo and graduate student Jinyan Zang.
Together, the researchers examined how vulnerable the US voting system is to hackers. The study details multiple channels that hackers could use for buying and finding sensitive voter information.
Data sets with lists of personal information can be purchased or obtained fairly easily the researchers noted. Contrary to what one might think, voter information, including addresses, gender, and political party affiliation, is publically accessible.
All in all, the researchers spent $18,000 obtaining voter information from the 35 states that allow online registration. The information did not include social security numbers or driver’s license numbers, although those lists can be purchased from commercial data brokers and from the dark web.
Sweeney was able to purchase two sets of data containing the personal identity information of most adult Americans for just a little over $1,000.
“The money, I think that’s a real shocker. In Ohio, the data is free – you can download it from the Web. And others who have purchased the data have made it freely available in an attempt to add transparency to the election process. Even data brokers who specialize in voter lists, $2,000 was the maximum, and they covered all 50 states,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney urged that the point of the study was not to emphasize the major flaws in the voting system or the security measures invested in by the states. Instead. Sweeney said the information should be used to help close any gaps and halt potential future voter identity theft.