Rice expert warns Congress about election cyberthreats


David Ruth

Rice expert warns Congress about election cyberthreats

HOUSTON – (Sept. 13, 2016) – Rice University computer scientist Dan Wallach today warned that the American election systems face “credible cyberthreats” and urged the need for a contingency plan during a testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in Washington, D.C.

wallach-rayburn2The hearing “Protecting the 2016 Elections from Cyber and Voting Machine Attacks” reviewed the current voluntary guidelines for protecting voting and election systems and whether such guidelines and protections are being effectively implemented in advance of the upcoming elections.

“We must ask ourselves the same sorts of questions that arise in any security analysis,” Wallach said. “Does the adversary have the means, motive and opportunity to have their desired effect, and do we have the necessary defenses and/or contingency plans to mitigate them?”

Wallach, who is a professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering and a scholar at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, is an expert on voting machine security. He has vocalized his viewpoint in the media in recent months following allegations of Russian intrusions into the United States election systems.

“We’ve learned that Russia may have been behind leaked Democratic National Committee emails, explicitly to manipulate our elections,” Wallach said. “And they need not attack every county in every state. It’s sufficient for them to go after ‘battleground’ states, where a small nudge can have a large impact.”

While the hearing aimed to address the current voter-database security landscape as well as future protection developments, Wallach warned that the current systems for voter registration, casting and tabulation cannot be replaced before November to make a difference.

“It’s far too late to change the technologies upon which we will cast our votes,” Wallach said. “My best advice is that we need contingency planning.”

In his testimony, Wallach also addressed his proposed technology solution for future elections.

“New hybrid voting systems, with electronic user interfaces and printed paper ballots … have the potential to substantially reduce costs and improve the security of our elections,” he said.

After providing remarks, Wallach took questions from the committee.

Wallach was joined to testify before the committee by Charles Romine, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Tom Schedler, Louisiana secretary of state; and David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairs the Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the committee’s ranking member is Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Wallach’s research includes computer security topics, ranging from web browsers, servers and networks to electronic voting systems security and smartphones.

For more information, contact David Ruth, director of national media relations at Rice, at david@rice.edu.


A high-resolution IMAGE is available for download at:

CAPTION: Dan Wallach

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About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.