University of Southern California Conducted an Online Workshop on the Election Cybersecurity Initiative in New Hampshire

By Katherine Buck '20 | June 9, 2020

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On Wednesday, May 27, the University of Southern California conducted an online workshop on the Election Cybersecurity Initiative. Run by American journalist, media executive, and scholar Adam Powell III over two hundred participants virtually attended the workshop focused on best practices in election cybersecurity. This workshop was specially tailored to New Hampshire politics and the importance of protecting our democracy.

Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics Neil Levesque says, ““Because of the NHIOP elections experience, we were pleased to be part of the USC conference on Cyber security and offer our views on election security.”

The workshop began with a session on cybersafety presented by Dr. Clifford Neuman, Director, USC Center for Computer System Security. His presentation showcased who is at risk of cybersecurity attacks, goals of the attacks, attack methods, and safety tips to prevent cybersecurity attacks. 

Dr. Neuman warned candidates, election officials, voters, and journalists are at risk of cybersecurity attacks. Goals of these attacks include disrupting an election by manipulating voters, discouraging or preventing voting, manipulating vote tallies, and creating a distrust of the outcome. The attacks come in the forms of releasing data, changing or destroying data or systems, or preventing access to systems or data. Attacks come from attacking poor passwords, using malicious software, phishing or social engineering, and using disinformation and misinformation. 

Dr. Neuman advised participants to not use the same systems they use for work for entertainment, to be conscious of where you store sensitive data, be vigilant about links, emails, software, and apps, and to use your organizations IT resources such as email and desktops. 

Dr. Andrew Smith, Director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, presented on Trust in Elections: Deepening the Partisan Divide in US and NH. Dr. Smith discussed the importance of trust for accepting results and trust and support of winning candidates and policies. Threats to this trust include a lack of Constitutional understanding, such as misunderstanding the Electoral College. Other threats include inaccurate vote count, illegal voting, voter disqualification and disinformation. 

Sarah Mojarad, lecturer at USC spoke on disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation is intended to look credible. It appears to be from a credible source but has an unknown journalist or author. This information is not reported by other legitimate news outlets and it is not verifiable. Disinformation is used to elicit strong emotions and mislead or cause harm to others. 

Mojarad says misinformation is false info that is shared without a deliberate attempt to mislead others. It is not shared with a motive and may align with our own attitudes, beliefs, and political leanings. Misinformation is shared by those who believe the information is credible. Disinformation and misinformation spreads through echo chambers, confirmation bias, and fake narratives.

The University of Southern California will be conducting several Election Cybersecurity Initiative workshops catered to each individual state. To find out more visit their website