Pennsylvania revealed in April this year that the state needs serious system updates on the machines they use during elections. ABC News said that election authorities advised counties to perform such upgrades to prevent election-related hacks in 2020.
To do this, the government allocated $14.15 million to aid Pennsylvanian counties to transition to newer systems. According to reports, most of the funding came from federal funds. As of this writing, around 60% of the districts have complied.
While some consider replacing old units a good thing, experts warn officials of outdated software. The ABC News report said that many of the newly acquired systems still have old operating software (OS) installed. Particularly, many machines run Windows 7, a few generations lower than the current Windows 10.
Experts say that this makes the electoral machines “vulnerable to hackers.”
‘End of life’
Experts find the use of Windows 7 and below alarming as the OS is nearing its end of life. On January 14, Microsoft will be stopping support and fixes for the software. This means that the company will no longer be issuing patches for security issues, giving hackers leeway for malicious activities.
However, Microsoft told AP that it will be offering paid services for Windows 7 until 2023. This offer will include security updates until the aforementioned year.
Not only in Pennsylvania
A study by the Associated Press (AP) revealed that aside from Pennsylvanian counties, many electoral areas nationwide run old OSes. In fact, a large percentage of 10,000 jurisdictions across the United States use machines running Windows 7 and below. These units are used to program voting machines, create ballots, count votes and reportage.
In a survey, AP learned that aside from Pennsylvania, the issue affects 8 other states. This includes Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Reportedly, Michigan and Georgia have acquired new systems.
According to critics, such issues are bound to happen especially without federal supervision over election systems provided by private companies. System providers claimed that they are working towards improvements pertaining to election units. State authorities remarked that they are “wary” of the federal government’s interference in state and local votes.
Meanwhile, Senator Ron Wyden expressed concern over the lack of legislation allowing federal intervention regarding cybersecurity. Wyden also urged Congress to pass a bill giving the federal government such mandate.
Such election-related concerns pertaining to cybersecurity stem from claims that Russia interfered with the 2016 US elections through cyber attacks.