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Elections officials on alert for hackers targeting voting results pages in 2020

Elections officials on alert for hackers targeting voting results pages in 2020. (WPEC)

State and county officials are warning of hackers potentially targeting the sections of Florida election web pages that display election results.

Authorities warn it is much easier to infiltrate and alter the more vulnerable results web pages than it is to truly hack and change vote totals.

“[It’s] not even as much to change the result, but to show that they could change the results and to knock the confidence and to force people back,” said Wendy Sartory Link, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections.

South Florida counties, including Palm Beach, are prized targets to hackers in the lead up to the 2020 election, Sartory Link said.

“They’re going to hit a big county. And it's probably going to be in South Florida. And there’re not a lot of big counties in South Florida,” she said, underscoring that Palm Beach County is under threat.

Supervisors of Elections across Florida have been steadily gearing up to confront frontal assaults from hackers targeting voting systems, voter rolls and now, web pages.

The systems involved in voting and vote counting are traditionally better protected than the results web pages. Once votes are tabulated, they are displayed, in real time, on results sections Supervisor of Elections websites. Those web pages are where most media gather election returns and report winners.

“It’s an easy way to shake voter confidence,” Sartory Link said. “If you’re somebody that is going to make people nervous and make people question the results they have just been given, why not?”

Sartory Link believes Palm Beach County is ready for any kind of threat to its results web pages and overall election security. The web page is protected behind the county’s firewall and there are contingency plans for if the page is breached and results altered.

“If our web page gets hacked, it doesn’t affect the elections. The results because those are going to be held separately we’ll shut the website down if we have to,” she said.

Some voting systems have proven easy to hit. In 2018, an 11-year-old breached a mock Florida election website at a hacking conference.

“I think we’ve done everything there is to do,” Sartory Link said. “I don’t there’s anything out there that someone could say well could you do this or did you think about this.”