The absence of cybersecurity in the US 2020 election

This is a guest article written by Damon Culburt. The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of IT Governance USA.

2020 is an election year and Democratic candidates have been battling it out for months to be selected as Donald Trump’s opponent.

This cycle’s primaries have seen an unprecedented number of candidates from a variety of backgrounds throw their hat into the ring, with the field whittled down to 12 presidential hopefuls.

As part of the process, a number of televised debates have been held, focusing on a wide range of subjects. However, cybersecurity has yet to come up in any meaningful capacity.

Swing state cybercrime

By using data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the US Census Bureau, Cybersecurity Professionals noted that majority Democrat states in the 2016 election typically had higher levels of cybercrime than majority Republican states. More specifically, the three states which swung from Republican to Democrat in 2016 were all in the top 5 worst states in 2018.

This could suggest that those in Democrat-voting states are statistically more likely to suffer from cybercrime – the second-largest crime category in the US – showing just how important this subject should be to the current candidates’ voter base.

The Cambridge Analytica effect

The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted the importance of data privacy, and the extent to which tech giants can influence us using the personal information we share.

However, the scandal hasn’t been anywhere near as consequential as many experts predicted. The call to #deletefacebook was relatively short-lived, and the social networking site remains as omnipresent as ever.

Meanwhile, politicians continue to use the same social media tactics that influenced the 2016 presidential election. And for good reason: they work.

Most damning of all is that the amount of personal data being shared continues to grow, as does the number of data breaches. Yet neither side of the political divide has tackled data privacy, despite it being a major concern for the overwhelming majority of people.

Candidates’ approach to cybersecurity

One of the few cybersecurity issues that has come up in the run-up to the election is the use of paper ballots, which its proponents believe will eradicate the risk of online voter fraud.

However, according to Politico’s aggregation of candidates’ policy positions, only half of the remaining Democratic candidates support the use of paper ballets: Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. Five other major candidates – including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg – have yet to give an opinion.

President Trump’s cybersecurity position is also unclear, but his past actions – including using his personal phone for government business – suggests that data protection isn’t high on his list of priorities.

What can Americans do to stay safe online during the election?

While the American public waits for a more robust policy to be put in place to protect their data online and the security of their election process, there are a few things they should be aware of in the run-up to polling day:

  • Fact-checking

Though Facebook was fined $5 billion for facilitating the Cambridge Analytica scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the organization won’t change its approach to political advertising.

Therefore, voters should fact-check any claims made in political adverts – wherever they see them – and always be aware of who is sharing the information, as well as who has paid for the advert in the first place. 

Elizabeth Warren cleverly showcased the dangers of social media advertising last October when she ran an advert that claimed Mark Zuckerberg endorsed Trump’s re-election. In the era of ‘fake news’, political claims should not always be taken at face value and voters should remain vigilant against disinformation.

  • Personal data breaches

Personal data breaches are a case of when, not if. To maintain integrity as much as possible, people should take care when online and be aware of the permissions they give companies regarding their personal data.

Cambridge Analytica was able to abuse the data of 87 million Facebook profiles by gaining access through a quiz. 

  • Voter fraud

Voters should cast paper ballots or physical mail ballots where possible.

Technology has many applications in our daily lives, but with so many opportunities for it to be used maliciously, we should all exercise caution.


This article was written by Damon Culbert. Damon is a content writer for Cybersecurity Professionals. He has written for several leading cybersecurity magazines include CSO, SC Magazine and Beta News.