Like everyone today, our elections officials have to grapple with technological changes. And with those changes comes emerging security concerns. Take the 2020 democratic Iowa caucus, for example. The Iowa Democratic Party decided to use a new app to record results of the caucus that ended up causing a myriad of problems, delaying the results and sparking a controversy about the party’s use of the app. As more states begin to digitalize the election process, election security has become a topic of national concern. Of course, the stakes of an incident is probably not as high for a business as, say, protecting the democratic process. However, when looking at a case with such high stakes, incidents in our elections can clarify what we expect not only from our government but also what consumers expect from companies, and what organizations need to be taking seriously. Here are just three areas from which business can learn from the issues surrounding election security.
The first thing that business and election security officials have in common is the need to maintain public trust. One of the biggest concerns with digitalizing our elections is, if something goes wrong with the technology, it may harm the public’s trust in the voting process. This was certainly the case in Iowa this year. Despite the party’s assurance that even with the app down the results of the caucus could be accurately counted, disinformation and confusion quickly spread online.
That said, who even needs election interference to mess with a caucus if the app simply doesn’t work to begin with?
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) February 4, 2020
It’s not difficult to see how businesses can apply these election security concerns to their organizations. A public security issue with a produce or service could severely impact a business’s reputation and can be extremely difficult to repair. Consumers may feel like their privacy could be at risk and that your business doesn’t have their best interest in mind. To combat this, besides actively securing consumer data, businesses should be as transparent as possible with consumers about the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.
Soon after the Iowa caucus, it become abundantly clear that the app developers and the Iowa Democratic Party made a number of mistakes that lead to the problems on caucus night. For example, before the night of the caucus, the app was only tested internally, with no external review. The IDP even declined an offer from Homeland Security to review the app before roll out. Developers also didn’t have time to get the app approved through app stores, so required users to download the app through testing software, effectively by-passing the need to meet the security requirements from app stores.
The list of ways that the rollout was mismanaged goes on and on. However, this only highlights the need for business management to be involved in ensuring proper cybersecurity best practices are followed through the entire product lifecycle, from initial development, to implementation, and on going maintenance.
Businesses should also look at how election security officials respond—or, perhaps more accurately, don’t respond— to issues that arise. Without a proper response plan in place, problems could worsen and cause enough confusion to allow disinformation about the issue to spread. And that’s exactly what happened in Iowa. As the problem with the Iowa caucus came to light, instead of deploying a carefully planned incident response, the whole night turned into chaos and confusion, as caucus leaders sat on hold for hours to deliver results or even text pictures of their tallies to party headquarters.
This example shows just how necessary it is for businesses to have a proper incident response plan in place. This should involve sitting down with business leaders, IT staff, and other relevant employees to write out a detailed response for every incident that could arise. With a plan in place, businesses should also conduct regular incident response simulations, by asking the response team to test their plan for each possible incident. Responding to an incident quickly and efficiently will not only help limit the impact of the issue, but could help show regulatory bodies your proactive stance to cyber incidents, and even save your business money.
With the general election looming, election security officials are working hard to ensure no problems arise on election day. Hopefully, come November there won’t be any lessons for businesses to learn from.