President Ilves (center) with former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff (left) and discussion moderator Frank Cilluffo. Photos by Karin Shuey / EANC
The Estonian Embassy co-sponsored an event on September 26th in conjunction with Auburn University and the Center for Internet Security to “address risks, vulnerabilities, best practices and what needs to be done to secure elections worldwide” according to Auburn University’s announcement of the event. Featured speakers included former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Ambassador of Estonia to the U.S. Jonatan Vseviov.
Chief National Cyber Risk Officer, Government of Estonia Liisa Past (third from left) with fellow election security experts.
Liisa Past, Chief National Cyber Risk Officer of the Government of Estonia; and Estonian American Frank Cilluffo, Director of Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security, and the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, were also among the experts contributing to the event. The full video:https://bit.ly/2nSYZjv
Ambassador Vseviov opened the discussion by reminding us that western democracy is an experiment and that other fundamentally different experiments are going on around the world at the same time.The challenges we face threaten the very essence of democracy as other experiments “are actively attacking the credibility of what makes our experiment special.”He stated that while there is an ongoing worthy debate on whether the use of technology makes us more or less vulnerable, “we in Estonia are absolutely certain that …
utilizing technology in a smart way, we can not only make life easier for people… but at the same time we can increase the security of not only our elections, but our information society, our societal cohesion, and those pillars that make our democracy work.”
President Ilves identified one major weakness in the West as our tendency to manage information in silos based on what discipline it falls into while our adversaries integrate their strategies on a continuum to manipulate and undermine liberal democracies from many angles.Another disadvantage is the lack of information sharing among nations and agencies.Both practices prevent governments from seeing the bigger picture and putting together individual incidents to recognize broader threat patterns.As a result, NATO and its partners aren’t able to fully understand related attacks and coordinate effective responses.
Ms. Past stressed the importance of risk management and agility in reaction to cyber threats.This requires that a nation knows its assets and what an adversary is most likely to attack.In elections, many factors leading up to actual election day are part of the chain of vulnerability.The U.S. election structure is very decentralized with different systems employed at the state and local district levels.Considerations include candidate registration, voter registration, how voter roles are managed, vendors of voting equipment, election facilitators, how votes are actually cast, and how results are published.
Each level carries a level of risk.
She noted that no way of voting is 100% secure.“Election fraud and vote manipulation didn’t start with the use of technology in elections.It started with free, fair and open elections being invented as a concept.So what we’re dealing with in election meddling is fundamentally a political issue … playing out in a new technical sphere.”
The event ended with the acknowledgement that progress in the field is ongoing.The event showed that Estonian expertise is recognized and valued here in the U.S.EANC will continue to cover events where Estonians are invited to share their knowledge and contribute to security here in the U.S.
Washington, DC Director
Estonian American National Council