Volunteer Program Aims to Secure US Election

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The University of Chicago has launched a new initiative that aims to increase the cybersecurity of America’s forthcoming presidential election.

Election Cyber Surge will function as a matchmaker service, connecting US election officials concerned about cybersecurity with volunteers who are experts in the field.

Officials will choose an area of particular weakness, and then choose from a list of volunteer helpers someone from whom they would like to receive help over the phone, via text, or through a video chat. 

The assistance provided by the group will be opened up to all state and local election officials. 

The program will launch with 50 volunteers, all of whom will have gone through some kind of vetting process. Most of the volunteers who have already signed up to the project are cybersecurity professionals with a least ten years of experience who were located through the university's contact database. 

Election Cyber Surge said that their volunteer technologists represent a cross-section of the information security field, including election security, cybersecurity, and IT.

Exactly what vetting is involved in the volunteer selection process is not mentioned on the university’s dedicated project web page. Those seeking to apply for a volunteer position are simply asked to provide their name, email address, organization, phone number, zip code, key skills and any comments, and to indicate if they have previously attended the DEF CON Voting Village. 

Commenting on the new initiative, project leader Maya Worman, a former government cybersecurity strategist of long standing, said: “The need is obvious, but the help exists.”

Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, said that while the project could potentially be helpful, involving a brigade of volunteers in election security offered no guarantee that any effective cybersecurity strategies will be implemented. 

“If the volunteers find issues, the question then arises as to whether there are resources allocated that can address those issues, put in place fixes, and validate the effectiveness,” said Malik. 

“So, while volunteers can play a significant role, there is still a lot of other work that will need to be done as part of an overall effective cybersecurity strategy.”

What the formation of the group has affirmed is that there is a lack of confidence in the security of America’s electoral system. 

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